Fans of the movie You've Got Mail will certainly agree that walking into Akshara is almost like walking into A Shop Around The Corner. This unassuming little place literally around the corner from Ratnadeep supermarket in Srinagar Colony is a warm and friendly store for book-lovers.
If you are looking for ostentatious displays, concealed lighting, bean bags and other such trappings of the modern retail trade, Akshara is not the place for you. What you will find here is a simple but effective method of display, and a comprehensive collection of truly good books.
The folks at Akshara seem to understand that very often people who visit bookstores don't have a fixed agenda. They are there to explore. Imagine those times when you are walking down the streets of a hitherto-unexplored part of town; you are delighted at your serendipitous discovery of a second-hand bookstore; you enter the musty, dark interior with building excitement, mixed with trepidation; your awe deepens when you see the mountains of books inside; the old man at the desk with a studied eye allows you to wander around and discover the treasures within; finally, you find three books you've always wanted, and are about to pay for them; the old man looks at the books, then at you, and suggests two more; they have been on your to-read list forever and they just slipped your mind; he hands all five books over in a brown bag, and you are thrilled beyond what mere words can capture.
This sort of experience - so incredible, yet so rare in today's cookie-cutter bookstores - can be had at Akshara. There are no pesky uniformed attendants falling over each other to help you find a book, nor tailing you around the store lest you filch a volume. Yet, if you need help, it can be found easily, and the people at the store are capable of suggesting books that you might find interesting.
While a run-of-the-mill franchisee running a chain bookstore would put "Still Reading Khan" on the most prominent shelf, the book lovers at Akshara choose to fill that same space with an eclectic collection of documents ranging from left-leaning political commentaries to colorful children's books. The wares include not only the usual categories such as management, self-help and popular fiction, but also religion, philosophy, economics and cooking.
They also stock annual editions of magazines, important UNDP reports and so on. By thus showcasing not only the prominent but also the obscure, by allowing customers to discover little-known but great books, Akshara's promoters bring an entire new personal dimension to the art - yes the art - of selling books. The store also has a music section, which stocks only classical music and a new stationery section.
One of the most striking and noteworthy aspects of this child-friendly bookstore is that it is usually filled with eager children. The media likes to scream from the rooftops that Pottermania notwithstanding, our kids have stopped reading, but this seems to be far from the truth when you see a 6-year-old pleading with her mother in perfect English: "I like them all, and I'll finish each one too quickly, so please let me buy all three books, Mummy!" A sight I have never seen in an Odyssey
or a Crossword
, and one that takes me back to lazy Sunday afternoons spent at Walden
as a child.
Akshara is also one of the few stores that organizes book-readings by authors and other activities that encourage the community to read. Truly a "progressive contribution", as their motto announces proudly.