Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
A quaint little book-cafe in the heart of the national capital, Full Circle Bookstore and Cafe Turtle in Khan Market was a pit stop for bibliophiles, writers, aspiring authors, children, travellers, cake lovers, for two straight decades. But the iconic address of the family-run independent bookstore will no longer exist.
The coronavirus pandemic and the eventual lockdown forced the book-cafe to pull down the shutters, earlier in June.
Speaking to The Quint, Director of Cafe Turtle, Priyanka Malhotra said it was difficult to run the business amid rentals, overheads and salaries.
"“You know it is probably one of the toughest decisions we have had to make. Personally and professionally, both. We tried very hard to stay on. Like everyone else. You know, we are all in the same boat. Keeping rentals, overheads, salaries, everything in mind, as an independent book store, the economics was looking very daunting.” " - Priyanka Malhotra
While their landlord in Khan Market did not agree to reduce the rent, the building owners in the bookstore's two other branches – Greater Kailash and Nizamuddin – were kind to reduce the rent, in order to let the independent bookstore survive.
" “In our GK branch, which is where we are today, and Nizamuddin, we have been fortunate to have landladies who have waived the rent during lockdown and also agreed to a reduced rent going forward. We just don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what the present holds.”" - Priyanka Malhotra
‘To Lose A Dear Friend’
But wrapping up the Khan market store was anything but easy. Malhotra said that people from all over the world wrote to her – while some reminisced about their first dates in the bookshop, others recollected the go-to gooey chocolate cake at the store.
"“Many of them have said that they had their first dates there, actually. It has been a place where authors have worked on their novels. Many of them are sentimental about the cafe, the gooey-chocolate cake which they used to come for.”" - Priyanka Malhotra
Social media too, was filled with posts, which bid a sad goodbye to the book-cafe.
Just heard Cafe Turtle and Full Circle in Khan Market are permanently shutting down. Too many memories associated with this place. And too many intense conversations. Conversations have faded away now. Only WhatsApp and zoom remains.— Sunanda Vashisht (@sunandavashisht) June 7, 2020
The iconic Cafe Turtle in Khan Market is shutting coz cant make the rent. I was there, covering it, sampling that carrot cake over which so much art, literature, culture would be discussed eventually, 20 years ago. In 2000, as Indian Express's food writer. An end of an era.— Anoothi Vishal (@AnoothiV) June 7, 2020
It’s official! Khan Market’s Cafe Turtle is history! Perhaps the only time this iconic cafe appeared on a book cover was in mine! The evening the owner spotted this book—in 2010–she told the waiter to spare me the bill for their super-pricey bruschetta! pic.twitter.com/dThMVYWV4T— mayank austen soofi (@thedelhiwalla) June 7, 2020
"“It was absolutely heartbreaking. The place which was once so vibrant and such an important part of the book community and readers is now just being packed up. You saw the cartons, the bookshelves empty, the cafe was completely quiet, and you couldn’t hear a sound and it was just sad. I have said this before, for me personally, it feels like I have lost a very dear friend.”" - Priyanka Malhotra
The owners are in talks to set-up a new bookstore in Meherchand Market, not very far from the iconic Khan Market address.
But how do independent bookstores survive in the post COVID-19 era? While Malhotra says that they have been struggling, thanks to the online onslaught, she hopes that both digital and family-run shops survive.
"“When bookstores were allowed to open, a lot of people realised the value of browsing. It is a different experience, which online retail can never replace. We can’t compete with online giants but having said that, I think that a true lover of books will understand the value a book has.”" - Priyanka Malhotra
She urged people to support local businesses – be it grocery store or kirana shop or a bookstore.
“I think we have all realised, especially during this pandemic.which has shown us a different reality, how important it is to be supportive, encouraging and understanding in these times. Because we have all felt the hurt of what COVID-19 has done,” said Malhotra.
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