The Common Room, turning a new page amid the pandemic

Atou Keretsü  (L) with Ruovinuo Khoubve
Atou Keretsü (L) with Ruovinuo Khoubve

Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | September 14

While the pandemic has claimed bookstores around the world, it has not crushed the spirit of booklovers in Kohima even as they wake to the opening of a new independent bookstore called “The Common Room” (Bookshop & Café), placed right in the heart of the town. Like any keen English literature student, Atou Keretsü had always dreamt of running her own bookstore but little did she think that when it finally happens, it would be during the time of coronavirus.  

“We had been checking out places for the bookstore and just as we found it, the lockdown happened,” she recalls in an exclusive interview with The Morung Express. Her cousin, Ruovinuo Khoubve, who is currently pursuing her M.A from IGNOU, and a keen booklover herself, has also joined her in the venture. The COVID-19 lockdown however did not change her resolve to start this quaint little bookshop & café, filled with personally handpicked books and pretty little things that are locally made.

In the same manner Naga homes have a common room, which is often the chosen place for families and friends to gather, meet and greet, the very name- “The Common Room” has been conceptualized with the view to give a ‘homely vibe’ to every visitor. Atou Keretsü, who studied M.A in English Literature from Delhi University would recall a lovely small café run by a Korean couple in Indra Vihar, the locality where she lived as a student, and how she frequented the place to read.

“I wanted to do something similar to this but with books”, she relates while expressing further that “now, there are lots of cafes here but the ‘homely vibe’ is missing. And it’s not just a café but books as well because I want to encourage the culture of reading among our people.” For her, it was unmistakably her father, who instilled in her the love for books even as she puts across, “my father used to buy me Sidney Sheldon books when I was in high school.”

The idea of books is very exciting for me, she goes on to say. “I love books but I was not sure if it (bookstore) will do well, and to start with, I didn’t even know how it’s possible but thanks to Martin of Ukiyo, a classmate of mine who helped make it happen”, she states with gratitude. Martin is the owner of Ukiyo Bookstore, Imphal, who also initiated the Ukiyo Literature Festival to mark one year of its existence last October, bringing together authors and publishers from across the country.

When The Common Room formally opened on September 4, 2020, Keretsü was pleasantly surprised to see many walk-ins and the ‘very good response’ it has received so far. “I didn’t think local books would do so well, but surprisingly, many people are buying them as well”, she says. On an average, there are about 20 to 30 people walking in every day, and most of them do not leave without buying a book or two.

She is grateful to have supportive parents, family and friends who have been instrumental in her pursuit of this dream bookshop and café. The news of bookstores closing down because of the pandemic had given her a hint of disappointment but the support of the ‘bookish’ people around her had made it possible to rise against the odds. “It’s not just the business but my personal love for books”, she also confesses.

The Common Room also has a ‘Rent a Book’ Corner from her own personal collection of books, where readers can rent a book for Rs. 30/- for a maximum period of 5 days. While no visitor has rented a book yet, the sight of them sitting and riffling through books is a common sight in the newly opened store.

Prior to starting this venture, Keretsü taught English at Mezhür Higher Secondary School (the school where she also previously studied) for 14 months. The Common Room is in the 2nd floor of Yiese Building, Opposite to Oking Hospital Kohima and is open 6 days a week from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.