At 30, Neha Pipariya finally has a home where she is at peace with herself; Pagdandi, the quaint, yellow-shuttered bookstore cum cafe that she set up a couple of years ago with the fellow traveler and now soul mate, Vishal, is where she heads to every morning to feel secure and welcome.
In the three years since they started it, Pagdandi, meaning ‘rough trail’, has led countless other wanderers on the path to self-discovery; Storytellers spinning their tales to willing ears, writers honing their creativity, first-time poets looking for an audience, master craftsmen demonstrating their craft and book lovers sprawled on an ancient day-bed in the corner, seeking retreat into other worlds.
Like her, Pagdandi defies slotting.
It could be a bookstore but it hardly sells any. It is more a library where visitors pick up books to read undisturbed, with a great cup of tea and snacks. It is everybody’s favorite place; senior citizens come there to read newspapers and hang out with people a quarter their age while homemakers come there with book-loving kids and grab their quiet time with a steaming cup of ginger tea.
When they started out they had no money- Vishal had given up his job in technology- and they did everything from painting the place to making the tea and sandwiches by themselves. They used their own book collection but today the community donates so many books that the husband-wife duo, in turn, now distribute books to poor community schools.
A disturbed childhood and adolescence led the 22-year-old Neha to leave home and head to Mumbai to prove herself. A series of jobs, some meaningless, others demeaning, including one as a “runner” in the TV industry, fetching and delivering cassettes from cameraman to the van followed.
At 25, she landed up at a Delhi yoga institute where she cooked meals for them in return for free yoga lessons. At the Yoga institute’s Kerala branch she discovered the joys of backpacking alone, letting down temporary roots in small south-Indian villages and towns, dropping in at the homes of her friend’s grandparents or living in hippy colonies in Goa.
In the seaside town of Gokarna in Karnataka, she met a woman who changed her life forever. The woman wore no clothes other than a loin cloth and lived by herself in a tiny hut behind which a stream passed.
She caught her own fish, grew her own vegetables and bathed in the stream.
Every evening she expressed gratitude for her many blessings. “I camped in a coconut grove with her one moonlit night and had long conversations about life. I promised myself then that my journey would never be about money but about connecting people.”
Miraculously, she met her future husband, Vishal, soon after that. “I fell for the fact that we are equals in every part of our life and that means the world to me.”
Pagdandi mirrors their attitude towards life. “Backpacking and couch surfing truly opened my heart to different people and cultures and taught me that inside, we are all the same. Vishal and I wanted to create a place where strangers can walk in and make friends, have conversations and forge relationships without being judged.; because we both love books, we wanted the place to be about books and creativity.
The process of setting up Pagdandi has healed the old, festering wounds in her heart and brought her closer to her estranged family.
“In Pagdandi I find the warmth and acceptance that I yearned for in my childhood and that warmth has made me warm up to my family once more. Today I don’t regret my unhappy childhood or the years I struggled to prove myself. If I had been given a happy childhood, Pagdandi would never have happened to me…….”
You can reach her on firstname.lastname@example.org or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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