Want a Chetan Bhagat? Stay away from Rachna Books, the independent bookstore in Gangtok.
Raman Shresta, the idealistic 40-year-old bookseller, still has to borrow money from his parents well, almost every year but refuses to stock some of the bestselling authors because of their dubious literary merit. In fact, he waits in ambush for unsuspecting youngsters to walk in asking for a Chetan Bhagat, or Durjoy Datta, or Ravinder Singh. And then? ‘I tell them about good, serious writers. I guide them towards classics, you never go wrong with them.’ Some of them go back, some with a book or two; a few come back for more.
How it Started
In 1979, Rajiv Shankar Shresta, an IAS officer, along with his father JS Lal Shresta, a retired school headmaster, started a general bookstore in Gangtok’s idyllic, residential Development Area. It also had magazine and newspaper agencies. However, after some years of brisk business, shutters came down on the book shop in 1988 as Shresta found it increasingly difficult to manage.
Fifteen years later, his “prodigal son” Raman Shresta, who’d spent some years in Pokhra in Nepal and Delhi, “searching his soul” after training in hotel management and graphic designing, had an epiphany travelling on a shared cab from Darjeeling to Sikkim. It had been a year since he had hung up his corporate boots, and was home on a break. At the end of a bumpy ride through the majestic mountains, hugging the banks of the picturesque Teesta, he declared to his family that he was not going to leave Sikkim; he would reopen Rachna Books.
Today the bookstore is an important cultural landmark of Gangtok, a city loved by tourists as much for the breathtaking views of Mount Kanchenjunga as for its nightclubs and casinos. The Lonely Planet describes Rachna as Gangtok’s best-stocked and convivial bookshop where “gentle live guitar music serenades you while you browse.’
It won Publishing Next’s Bookstore of the Year award in 2015. And earlier this year, Shresta was seen rubbing shoulders with some very big names from the field of literature and publishing at the Jaipur BookMark – part of the Jaipur Literature Festival – as one of the speakers.
Rachna’s success story lies not in its balance sheets. After all, for any independent bookstore, making money is very difficult with the emergence of big-moneyed bookstore chains, online shopping and digital publishing. ‘I have just about survived. It’s been possible in large part because I don’t have to pay rent for the space,’ says Shresta.
Rachna’s major contribution lies in nurturing an ardent community of booklovers and cultural aficionados in a hill town where a surfeit of new money has resulted in buildings, buildings and more monstrous buildings. Rachna provided refuge to young minds from the city’s growing materialistic culture. They met there and read to each other, often their own compositions. Those not into books strummed their guitars. Artists lined up their installations, and bakers, their cakes and brownies.