By Shilpa Raina
New Delhi: If a lot can happen over a cup of coffee, a lot more can happen now with the book cafe culture gaining popularity across the country. The concept of sipping a hot cup of coffee and reading your favourite author couldn’t have got any better.
Time was when serious book readers scoffed at the idea of mixing one pleasure with the other. So, when Full Circle book store and Cafe Turtle began operations in 1999 in the national capital, people were welcoming but sceptical. No one thought a cafe with a book shop will last very long – but it prospered.
Then, Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore’s first book cafe, opened in Kolkata in 2000. The concept soon became a rage across the country. Today, Cha Bar has 30 outlets in major cities and towns in India.
As the name Cha Bar suggests, it offers an exotic range of teas in addition to coffees and snacks.
“People wanted to have a comfortable, friendly space for chit-chatting, relaxing and reading,” Priyanka Malhotra, chief executive officer of Cafe Turtle that is located in the capital’s tony Khan Market, told IANS.
“Many were looking for a space to write or read. We filled that gap,” Malhotra added.
A Cha Bar official said the concept was expanded pan India as they realised customers loved the experience of being able to browse at leisure, leafing through books of their choice or simply unwinding with friends sipping rejuvenating beverages, iced or piping hot.
Now, many cafe owners are incorporating a book section or library into their outlets to reap benefits.
In a well-planned strategy, the owners of Back…To The Desi Cafe in Kolkata’s Salt Lake clubbed books, coffee and snacks for the corporate lot.
It has created a buzz, especially with the corporate honchos whose offices are housed in the area.
The strategy was planned by Under One Roof Hotel Consultants, a Delhi-based company that gives clients suggestions from designing to selection of books.
“When we did our research we realised a lot of people step out of their office for a cup of coffee. There are many who want to have a quite time, away from office tension,” said Sonia Mohindra, director of Under One Roof Hotel Consultants.
“The idea is to provide them a place where they can have solitude. They can browse through a few magazines and then get back to work,” she added.
As the books and magazines are not for sale, the cafe has introduced the concept of “take a book, leave a book” where one can give away the book one has read and doesn’t want to keep and can take a book that has been left by someone else.
The idea is working for the cafe.
In all this, can Mumbai be far off?
Taking a leaf out of Japan’s popular comic culture, Vidisha Vasu opened The Leaping Windows Comic Library and Cafe this month.
“It was after the Comic Con festival that we realised this space is underrepresented. There are many such comic cafes in Japan and we have followed that concept,” said Vasu, one of the founders of the cafe.
“This is not a book shop. This is a library where you can become an annual member, or else you can come and read. Comics are extremely expensive; so we cater to a niche audience. But we are offering something that is unique,” Vasu told IANS.
One can become a member by paying Rs. 4,500 per year and one has to shell out Rs. 30 per hour to spend an hour in the library.
While all these places have innovative ideas like book reading sessions, book launches, art events and weekend workshops to expand, this growing culture has its detractors.
“Today it seems to be the in thing to be spotted at a book cafe. There is a trend of pseudo intellectuals brewing up who enter these spaces for gossips and chats,” said Nandini Gupta, 23, a literature student.
“One can only go to such places either early in the morning or in the afternoon. Go there in the evening and you will see too many people. Who will read in such an atmosphere? Perhaps a library is the best place to read quietly. These are just fads that will pass gradually,” she added.
Software developer Vipul Mehra disagreed.
“It is a different experience altogether. One gets to browse through books and at the same time munch on snacks and sip some coffee. The combination is just great,” said Mehra.
“These places attract like-minded people. It is easy to strike a conversation with strangers either over a hot cup of tea or while reading a book,” Mehra said.