Seventy five year old Man Mohan Chaudhri, a former joint director with NCERT, runs a book club from the basement of a house in DLF City Phase 1, Gurgaon. Started 10 years ago, the club organises book readings once a month on Saturdays, which is attended by about 40 people.
“The idea was to bring together booklovers in the city to one platform. When we started, we had some young members, but over the years most of them dropped out. Gurgaon has no books culture, there is little intellectual curiosity in the city,” Chaudhri laments. And he is not exaggerating. The Millennium City does not have single library.
Scores of bookshops have opened Chapter One, Word, Crossword, Corner Bookstore, Full Circle, The Reader, The Books and Beyond only to close down business quite soon. “What matters is not just the collection of the bookshop but also its location.
If your shop is accessible and if you offer extra benefits (read big discount) to readers, it will succeed,” says Sanjay Moga, partner, Om Book Shop, which has two outlets in Gurgaon.
His bookshop in Ambience Mall, which opened in May this year, is currently holding what he calls an exhibition cum sale of books. "The idea is to test the waters, I am yet to decide whether I would keep this second shop in Gurgaon," admits Moga.
Says Priyanka Malhotra of Full Circle, who closed down her bookshop in 2008 after running it for one and a half years. “We started the bookshop in an independent market instead of a mall, but did not get the kind of response we hoped for. Maybe it had to do with its location. Gurgaon has a heavy mall culture, but we were not comfortable with the idea of running a bookshop in a mall,” she recollects.
Gurgaon’s existing bookshops are located in malls and most sell more than just books. Those in independent markets, too, have diversified to attract a varied clientele. “Books are difficult to sell anywhere, but I have survived by understanding the taste of all my customers and making sure that the ambience of my bookshop keeps changing all the time through the art works that I display,” says Shobha Sengupta, who runs Quill And Canvas, a bookshop cum art gallery, at DLF Galleria.
What is surprising, though, is that most online book libraries in the NCR get most of their business from Gurgaon. Over 40 per cent members of BookMeABook, Delhi’s first online library, are from here. “When we started three years ago, 50 per cent of our members were from Gurgaon. I think it’s because there aren’t many bookshops and libraries in Gurgaon,” says Nidhi Verma, who runs the online library.
Arti Jain, co-founder of Friends Of Books, another popular online library, echoes Verma’s views. “A large chunk of our members are from Gurgaon. One of the reasons is that the city is very tech savvy and people are more open to online transactions,” Jain says.
Most people in Gurgaon say they prefer to buy books online and be members of online libraries, as life in Gurgaon is too hectic. "I buy my books online, and I also download lot of books. I do not think I would be able to visit a conventional library even if there was one," says Harsh Sharma (29), a Gurgaon based IT professional.
Prof Chaudhri blames the lack of a book culture in the Millennium City on the absence of educational institutions, which, he says, help foster a book culture.