THE average bookstore will stock books that customers want to read. An exceptional bookstore will have books that customers don’t yet know they want to read. The newly opened Wayword & Wise in Ballard Estate belongs to the latter category; most customers will probably stroll in, attracted by the quaint-looking storefront and searching for more of the same titles by the likes of Chetan Bhagat, Amish, Jeffrey Archer. The more “literary-minded” will probably look for Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami.
But once inside Wayword & Wise, they may find their attention drawn to other books, ones that are rarely stocked in Indian bookstores — Mislaid by Nell Zink, the latest sensation in American letters; Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto; The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges; The Complete Works of Primo Levi; multiple volumes of The Paris Review Interviews and biographies of the Beats such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.Browsing through the carefully curated selection of books — classic and contemporary fiction, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novels, children’s books, food books, among others — one would be right to assume that a bookstore such as this could only be owned and run by bibliophiles.
Owner Atul Sud, who runs a food importing business by day, and CEO Virat Chandok went through nearly three lakh titles before selecting books for Wayword & Wise, which opened in mid-October 2015. “We have the kind of books that no one else in the city is willing to keep,” says Chandok, “Most bookstores have a very limited idea of what their customers are looking for and so they focus on stocking bestsellers.”
Chandok and Sud have steered clear of such books; in their belief that books sell themselves, they have stocked titles that they hope will beckon readers without using the crutch of bestseller lists. “The main reason behind opening this bookstore was not to make money,” says Sud, “We love books and we wanted to share this love.” Sud had, in fact, been wanting to open an independent bookstore in the city and decided to team up with Chandok, who had managed the late lamented Lotus Book House in Bandra. The initial idea was to open a Mumbai branch of Delhi’s popular The Book Shop, run by KD Singh.
Following Singh’s death, that plan fell through. “But we decided to go ahead and open a standalone store, because we already had all the plans in place,” says Chandok.
The idea of sharing the joys of a good book lies at the heart of Wayword & Wise, so customers are encouraged to ask Chandok for his recommendations. “Most people who come in always walk out with a few books at least and nobody ever asks for a discount. Not even college students,” he says. The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, he reveals, almost cleaned out the philosophy and poetry sections, while another customer did not flinch while purchasing Bob Dylan’s The Lyrics: Since 1962, a hefty volume with an equally hefty price tag of Rs 7,000. Moreover, if customers don’t find something they’re looking for, Chandok is happy to specially get it for them.Currently, only the books section is open although a cafe space has been set up at the back.
“We wanted to do one of those European style cafes and want to serve wine and cheese,” says Sud. The cafe will most likely be open in a couple of months, while acquiring a licence to serve wine might take another 10 months. Also in the offing, are plans to host literary events such as book launches and poetry readings. Not that customers aren’t already happy, allowing the lovingly selected books to lure them in and keep them tethered to the store for hours at a time.
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