Growing up, during that phase when we fall in love with books we all start to have the whimsical dream of owning a bookstore. A magical space filled with a curated collection of the best books, surrounded by trees and where you could even grab a cup of coffee, have a quiet conversation with your best friend over a favourite classic novel or even attend readings by the latest authors. Champaca on Edward Road, Bangalore is precisely this book lover’s dream come alive - a place dedicated to those who look to lose themselves in words in a quiet corner.
This newly launched cafe is named after Champaca, the familiar tree known as Sampige or Champa. On their logo, they depict this flower, a racket tailed Drongo and Sambar Stag all particular to the area. The independent bookstore and cafe is created by and for the local book readers, lovers and hoarders community. According to accounts by visitors, set in the top floor of an old bungalow, Champaca is a quiet getaway that can make people forget that they are in the heart of a major city. In order to learn the tale of this beautiful space, we caught up with Radhika Timbadia, the founder of Champaca.
What is the story of Champaca? Who are the people behind the store and how did it begin?
I started working on the idea of the bookstore over 2 years ago. I was part of a Library Educator’s Course by the Bookworm Trust, a fabulous organisation in Goa, which helped me focus my ideas on how and why I wanted to do this.
From the very beginning, I wanted it to be a community effort and community space. I’ve been very open to people joining us in whatever capacity they want to. A team of us started curating the books in November, and visiting distributors even before that. Thejaswi Shivanand and Kavya Murthy joined us in January. Harsha is helping us set up the children’s library and get it going; Pranesh Prakash is helping with the code, Rahul Gonsalves with the website, Kriti Monga for logo and brand identity, and so many others. It has been quite the community effort already. And I think it’s a richer space because of it.
Our curation is more on point and diverse because of this. Many have helped curate based around ideas we wanted to focus on - like quality over quantity, diversity in terms of quality of writing, representation of people and authors and themes. It’s also a mix of familiar and unfamiliar so that people discover through our small small space and small collection. This criteria keeps evolving as we grow.
Champaca also includes a children’s library, which will be officially launched next month and will be a long-term project. Accessibility is important to us, so we’ll have a sliding scale for children who don’t have access to books. We also want to take it to schools and do free events for kids.
What are the joys and challenges of owning an independent bookstore in this day and age?
For the longest time, people didn’t take me seriously - from the distributors and publishers to the crockery guy, it’s been a challenge. I also don’t manage to take days off for 20-30 days at a stretch sometimes. Being here, day in, day out, motivating people...it’s a lot of work.
But the joys far exceed such challenges, because people have been incredibly supportive towards Champaca. When it’s raining, our customers don’t mind moving around and are generally helpful. Having such customers is a joy. Another amazing feeling is that we’re actually selling the books we want to be selling, which is quite heartening.
What are the unique aspects of Champaca that your regulars have come to love?
The curation; the avocado tree, which people seem to love; the moving ladder and the cafe, which has been well received. After all, who doesn’t love a cup of tea or coffee while browsing through books? I’m glad we didn’t settle for a space and waited for the right place to find us.
Tell us about the cafe and what you think are the best parts of it?
When we started this cafe, we wanted it to be very home style. I want to eat this everyday and not feel bad about myself, and we are managing to do that. Sarah of Copper & Cloves did our menu and she’s done a great job taking our inputs and converting it into a delicious and healthy menu.
We may use styles of cooking done everywhere but the focus is on local ingredients. So we use bajra instead of quinoa, fresh avocados from our tree, and so on. We have filling salads with grains, a wonderful avocado toast and a carrot cake to die for. Our mutton in the open sandwich is slow cooked for 4 hours; it melts in your mouth with deep, warm flavours.
Which are some of the books and authors that have made an impact on you?
In the last couple of years, I have loved N.K. Jemisin and Octavia Butler - black women authors who are writing fantasy and addressing class, race, and representation. They’ve made a huge impact on how I look at things. The fact that they’re so popular but I couldn’t find their books easily bothered me, so I wanted to stock those. I have also admired Ursula le Guin’s writing and themes.
Do you feel that there is a decline in book readers?
Well, Bangalore has quite a wonderful reading culture, so I don’t see that. Plus, we sold 1000 books in our first 6 weeks, which is pretty encouraging.
Are there any plans for Champaca’s future that you would like to share with us?
Our future is simple - we started Champaca wanting to be a community space around books and reading. And we’re still working on that. Our grand plan is for the library. More details on that soon.
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