A leading bookstore of Guwahati, ‘Not Just Books’ (NJB) hosted a book signing session of “Bulletproof” (Penguin India), the new book by senior journalist and author Teresa Rehman. Rehman says, “It’s a privilege to be able to sign copies of my book at this independent bookstore. In fact, we should all be supporting bookstores in our neighbourhood. In fact, we should start a movement in order to cultivate a good bookstore in every small town and district of Assam.” “Bulletproof” is based on her experiences of reporting conflict and the lack of a safety network for journalists on the field.
In the age of online shopping and other technological innovations like kindle, independent bookstores are struggling to survive all over the world. However, some resilient book lovers are riding against the tide and keeping the concept of bookstores alive. “Not Just Books” (NJB) in the heart of Guwahati city is one of them. Its young proprietor Sanchit Kumar, is a passionate book lover and unlike many of his peers, he decided to stick to his family business. He comes from a family that is three generations old in the book trade.
Sanchit’s father, Krishan Kumar was born in Taunsa (Dera Ghazi Khan District in the Punjab province of Pakistan) in 1946. He migrated to India and started the book trade. During his childhood, Sanchit and his siblings used to read a lot and he recalls travelling with his father for book fairs across the globe. “That’s how the passion runs through the blood and we now have two independent outlets in Guwahati at Panbazar and GS Road,” says Sanchit.
Born and brought up in Guwahati, Sanchit completed his postgraduate studies from Delhi University and chose to come back to the city of his birth and engage himself in the book trade. However, he decided to do something of his own and carve a niche for himself. Therefore, instead of joining his family shop, Modern Book Depot in Panbazar, he launched “Not Just Books” in 2013. The book specialises in children/young adults; all categories in fiction/non-fiction meant for leisure reading. “So, when NJB was launched in 2013, it was a dream come true for me. I had always wanted to have an exclusive store in Guwahati where readers can visit and feel at home. Sip through coffee and enjoy the music as well. I mean, I could have gone for a franchise and tie up with a Crossword or Oxford Bookstore but I wanted something of my own,” adds Sanchit.
In the age of smartphones and kindle books, Sanchit wants the denizens of Guwahati to physically visit bookstores and smell the pages of a new book. “I am proud to be in this profession and it gives me immense satisfaction to see that readers are still visiting bookshops; especially the young readers who come looking for books on diverse categories,” he adds. Dr Samhita Barooah, an Assistant Professor at the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) outlines the significance of independent bookstores. “These stores bring in their own flavour of the place they come from. These stores also stock up books which value local culture, views and variety. They also add value to local entrepreneurship.”
Reshma N C Shah, an author feels that independent bookstores know the reader’s tastes and can recommend books accordingly. They also provide a comfortable ambience for browsing and buying and can be good place to nurture the book reading culture. In fact, in Orissa, two young book lovers Akshaya Routray (36), and Satabdi Mishra (34) initiated the Walking BookFairs — an innovative concept called a ‘travelling library’ or ‘books on wheels’. They want reading to be accessible to all.
Independent bookstores have an important role in developing the culture of a place. Rhinusmita Kakoty Lahkar, a Guwahati-based Books Editor feels, “The more bookstores we have where youngsters can walk in, pick up books, discuss, the better a city or town becomes. Minds broaden. While online bookstores are easy to access there is nothing like browsing through actual books and then selecting what you would like to read. In Guwahati, for instance, you will find many books written by authors of the region which you may not come to know about through online stores or nationwide branded stores,” she says.