Time was there when books used to be serious business. Oh, they still are. Business that is. But no more are they locked within the silent, brooding rooms of a library, or in the glass-fronted cupboards of a salt-and-pepper haired bookstore owner, who would frown over the top of his glasses, as he reverentially handed over one from his collection for you to peruse and buy.
As boundaries between creative forms continue to erode, books today are just another form of expression, that is meant to be discussed, debated and thumbed over endless cups of tea, or coffee, not just with friends, within the walls of your bedroom or study, but with strangers, and even the author of the book at the neighbourhood café, that blends with its brew, food for the soul — books, music, photography, the arts or expressions, on paper, canvas and maybe even textiles.
If a Crossword, Landmark or Oxford Bookstore had added CDs, toys, other knickknacks, and a café to their book outlets, to give patrons the comfort of sipping a steaming cuppa as they browsed through the collection and made their choice of purchase, stores like Cafela, which opened its shutter on Kolkata’s busy Jatin Das Road approximately two months ago, have gone a step further to create an alternate art space.
Cafela brings together all kinds of lifestyle offerings such as tribal arts, silver and junk jewellery as well as apparel under one roof, along with a good measure of live music, books and ‘book-and-music events’. The café -store, a brainchild of Sanjoy Som and Dwaipayan Roy, offers a range of mostly continental and British bites and varied brews to add to the experience.
It’s a step forward in the cultural progression of a city that has always enjoyed its adda, or meaningful conversation that can have as its subject something as banal as a traffic jam, or as vibrant as the arts or politics of the state and nation. On one of the walls, to complement the tastefully done up decor at Cafela, hangs a guitar, and patrons are encouraged to pick it up and start an impromptu jam session any time they feel the urge to indulge in some music.
Of course, books are an integral part of the mix. Bookshelves offer poetry, autobiographies and a blend of light and serious reads in both English and Bengali. ‘We have already played host to a book launch and intend to have more book-oriented programmes in the future, book launches, readings and discussions,’ explains poet Souvik Bandopadhyay, who is a creative
consultant at the cafè-store.
Cafela also regularly hosts musical evenings. ‘The idea was that while there are still places that host artistic discussions over alcohol, there are none that indulges one’s mood for music and literature over coffee. Of course, Calcutta has had its iconic Coffee House, and many a storm was born in the tea-cups here, but as singer Manna Dey said in one of his songs, ‘Coffee House er shei adda ta aaj ar nei (The days of conversing at the Coffee House are long over).’
For today’s generation, hanging out over coffee means spending time at a Barista or Café Coffee Day. We wanted to create an alternative where one can spend time with friends, converse, indulge in music, literature and the arts over coffee,’ says Bandopadhyay.
The patrons, he adds, include both the young and the young-at-heart. The popularity of just-opened café-cum-lifestyle-and-arts store can be gauged from the fact that it has already garnered 1,100 ‘likes’ on Facebook
Cafela is not the only one of its kind. Three years ago, the national capital got Kunzum Travel Café at Hauz Khas Village. If you take out the travel theme out of the equation, Cafela and Kunzum share similar character traits. Kunzum was conceptualised by travel photographer and author Ajay Jain, as a place where like-minded people can meet and swap experiences and ideas related to travel. There is no pressure from the servers to order or buy anything. Bookracks with well-thumbed titles, mostly on the travel theme, line the walls. Ajay’s own books and photographs are available for sale. The café hosts book launches, authors’ meets and discussions.
Bookclub buffs also gather at Kunzum, and Ajay plans to make it a more
regular affair at the café. He is trying to reach out to more independent publishers to launch their new titles at Kunzum. ‘It’s like an offline extension of an online Facebook community,’ says Ajay of Kunzum, adding, 'With the growth of the social media, more and more strangers are interacting.'
Often these interactions and exchange of ideas translate into offline communications. Kunzum offers that space to communicate. Besides book-centric events, the café also hosts talks by traveling photographers and others. Related brands also use Kunzum to hold events or for sales promotions. There are coffee and cookies, too, on offer. But they are not priced. Just drop what you feel like in a box placed near the door.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of such a seamless space. Says Ajit Vikram Singh, a passionate book lover who owns the niche bookstore Facts & Fiction bookshop at the national capital, ‘The idea of a café-cum-bookstore is not new. But you can’t have serious book buying in such a setting. In such places, books are incidental to the whole thing. And rather than the café helping the sale of books, it is the other way round.’