If you have grown up in Shillong, then you must be well acquainted with the Chapala Book Stall. This well-functioning book stall has been winning their customers hearts since 1936. ‘Buy your books from Chapala Book Stall only’ is a phrase which has evolved into a tradition in Shillong. Even now, grandparents give this advice to their beloved grandchildren. In fact, that was the case for me as well; my grandparents took me to Chapala Book Stall every time I had to buy books. I got all my school books starting from primary school to higher secondary from there.
The current stall proprietor Buddhadeb Chaudhuri, a chemical engineer and an alumnus of Jadavpur University shared that it was his uncle, Late Bibhu Bhushan Chaudhuri, who established this trusted brand. ‘He graduated with distinction from MC College (then under Calcutta University), Sylhet, in 1934 and started the shop in 1936 with a saving of four hundred rupees. It was located in a small room on Jail Road.’ He sacrificed his own plans for higher education in order to start the store and support his family. ‘He wanted to carve opportunities for his siblings so that they can pursue higher education and prosper.’
It is fascinating to note that Bibhu Bhushan would circulate books across different schools and colleges with the help of a bicycle during the dormant days of his business. His dedication and hard work helped the business grow. Four years after the establishment, they shifted to their present location. Apart from selling books, they also started publishing books in Assamese from Shillong, erstwhile capital of Assam. As the business expanded, Bibhu Bhushan Chaudhuri became a known face in the Northeast. ‘Our daily income would be around forty rupees, which was a good amount in that period,’ cites Buddhadeb.
They also published books in Khasi, English as well as in Sanskrit. With an increase in demand for Assamese books, they started publishing translated versions of novels by Sharatchandra, Bankimchandra and Rabindranath Tagore in Assamese. Bibhu Bhushan Chaudhuri himself authored more than 25 books, mostly academic, and edited about 20 books. He was a recipient of The Shillong Times Golden Jubilee Award in 1996 for his contribution to literary and cultural activities of Shillong and the Northeast. He was one of the founding members of Shillong College and was also an editor for a number of journals published from Shillong.
Apart from educational entities, Bibhu Bhushan was well connected with many socio-cultural organisations and committees. He was a life time member of Nikhil Bharat Bangabhasa Prasar Samity, Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sanmelan, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, Bangiya Vignan Parishad, National Council of Education, Indian Red Cross Society and many such organisations. He breathed his last on the morning of 12th March, 1998.
Since then, the responsibility shifted to the shoulders of his nephew, the soft-spoken Buddhadeb. Despite facing competition from the digital bookstores, their business is still flourishing due to the rapport they have with their customers. ‘Online book stores are affecting our business but the demand for academic books is still the same. At the end of the day, it’s the number of books that we sell and the numbers we generate monetarily is what matters. So far, it is going well. Thanks to the ever-rising price of books. ’ They have also opened their extended branch in Keating Road, Shillong.
Till date, Chapala Book Stall has published more than two hundred books in Bengali, Assamese, English and Khasi languages. Their Anglo-Khasi Dictionary, which was first published in 1966, is still a major hit. In fact, my friend from Bengaluru was very grateful to the Chapala Book Stall for this dictionary as he wanted to impress his crush by speaking her language, Khasi. The store and its legacy attract readers from all across the country to this iconic book stall. ‘Recently, a gentleman from Kolkata visited our store after reading an article in some journal in Viswa-Bharati, Santiniketan. He was overwhelmed by the story of our business.’
So next time, you are in Shillong, be sure to drop by Chapala Book Stall to experience the charm of this well-known and loved 80-year-old establishment.