The store ‘Chapter 101’ is as rare in today’s world as the books it holds, bought from unlikely places by a collector who doesn’t mind if you don’t buy anything.
Imagine going shopping in a glitzy mall, stepping into shiny glass showrooms and then suddenly coming across a heavy wooden door which says ‘Chapter 101’. Step in, and you find yourself in another world — wood panelling, old books and all the time in the world to read.
Nestled in an unlikely nook of Gurugram’s South Point Mall, bristling with clothing stores, restaurants and saloons, Chapter 101 is a one-of-a-kind store. At first, one is amazed by the sheer warmth and old school vibe the bookstore welcomes you with. Slowly, people who really love bookstores experience the same feeling as Harry Potter did when he entered the wand store for the first time.
A manager in his mid-twenties sits opposite a coffee table which says “Help yourself.” He welcomes you with a smile and lets you explore the plethora of books perfectly aligned on the polished wooden shelves of the store while a soothing jazz number adding to the experience. The collection of leatherbound and hardbound books in the store is dazzling.
“I couldn’t believe a place like this existed. I was blown away.” This is what says Rohan Dahiya, Manager of Chapter 101 and an author gets to hear every day.
The store claims to be the only bookstore in Delhi NCR which offers old and rare books — either the books have gone out of print or the store has retrieved first edition or signed copies.
Among the possessions of the store are Iqbal, Poet of the East and Chughtai, a 1968 limited first edition book, a 1958 first edition Diwan-e-Ghalib, this is copy no.1 of the 150 numbered copies of the book.
One would rarely find a paperback lying on the many bookshelves of the store, and there is a reason for that. Singh believes that paperbacks are easily found at any popular bookstore, but the hardbound and leatherbound books are rare to find.
Owner Raju Singh, an ex-banker who runs a business of garment exports, always had a passion for books, dating back to his college days. He proudly speaks of his passion and how the store is not a business venture but more of a place where one could come in, away from the daily grind, have a cup of coffee while sitting on an upholstered leather chair and immerse oneself in the world of books.
“Books are certainly not a business. The idea was to open a place where people would like to come in, buy books and keep them in their own den forever,” says Singh amiably on the ideating process of the store.
It took him two years and countless trips to several bookstores in UK and US, from where he brought old and rare books. The name of these stores is a trade secret but he gushed about how old bookstores in the UK have some of the best collections in the world.
To have a substantial collection to display before the launch of the store, Singh also brought in some books from his private collection. “While setting up, there was no stress. It’s always been a passion. Even if they didn’t sell, I would’ve happily put them in my own private shelter,” added Singh.
Curating old and rare books is a painstaking process, according to Singh, sometimes you could find it in a vintage book store in UK, and sometimes in the labyrinths of Daryaganj at its Sunday book market — yes, that happened with Singh. He recalls the day he went in quest for an old book, and while looking around he saw a dark brown 1860 edition of Bible lying on a dusted corner.
“The seller didn’t know it’s value but it didn’t take me a second to decide to buy it”, says Singh. The book, which is now priced at Rs 60,000, is placed at the one of the three cupboards in the store which says ‘Old and Rare’.
A signed edition of Jawaharlal Nehru’s A Bunch of Old Letters priced at Rs 2 lakh is also available at the store. When asked about if anybody will buy such a heavily priced book, Singh says “It’s a rare beauty. There are buyers.”
Dahiya and Singh continue to look for rarity in the books they come across on the Internet and if it fits the bill, they add it to the collection at Chapter 101. Singh says sometimes if customers are looking for a specific book which they couldn’t find on their own, Chapter 101 helps them bring that book.
“We got a request for Around the World in 80 Days. We kept on looking for it and after much struggle we found it in a bookstore in New York,” says Singh on encountering problems while curating books. They found the book but the seller in New York would only sell it for $5,000-6,000; the customer refused to buy it at such a hefty price.
“Any bookshop which you’re paying rent for, it’s almost a non-starter now,” says Singh on the business of bookstores. As bookstores are shutting down across the world, due to a cultural shift to e-readers, Singh says it became important to not worry about the rent, and since he could afford to, he bought the place.
Speaking about the shift to e-readers and the dying business of books, Singh says “People will stop reading books on their Kindle. No doubt that it is convenient but one would still prefer to read a physical copy.”
He says that many bookstores resort to selling educational books which undoubtedly bring business from students, but that’s not what Chapter 101 stands for.
Singh also emphasises that one doesn’t need to buy anything from the store but just to explore the collection. “We ask customers to look around and feel comfortable. They can have free coffee and sit and read,” added Singh.
Talking about the future of the store, Singh says he never expected it to flourish how it did. He thought it would take the store 2-3 years to make a name, but word spread quickly and soon people from ages six to 70 starting visiting the store. The store also never asks customers to write their feedback but people want to, so a register has been put on the table.