The Traveling Stories

“Ah! What a dreadful day it was!” complained Rushel to her best friend
“Oh! I know, the client just kept on asking for new changes. Such a douche bag” said Richa.
Rushel and Richa are 2 partners working on a new business. They are bitten by the start-up bug and ventured out to start their own bookshop. A bookshop that traveled to meet people. It was a unique idea that they hit upon during one of their travel journeys through the Kumaon Hills.

Richa Patel and Rushel Seth were best of friends since the 8th grade. They were high school buddies who grew up to be partners in crime. From teenage crushes to college breakups to investment woes – they experienced all. Theirs is a friendship that stood the test of time. Well, that’s not it. You should know that they are inseparable from childhood. They too had their fair share of trouble in the uphill task of keeping a friendship viable but 2 things kept them together – Books and Traveling.

These 2 are the bookworms that love traveling and it was on one such journey when the idea of a traveling bookstore struck them. Both Rushel and Richa had a good job prospect back then. While Rushel was an investment banker, Richa worked hard as an editor in a publishing house. In their traveling days, they saw the condition of people in obscure places and regions. Its then, they came up with this idea of a bookstore for the have-nots. A book was the only agent of change that they believed in and thus started this entrepreneurship tale.

Well, you must be thinking what a boring corporate saga it would be! It certainly isn’t. This tale is about Richa and Rushel’s bookstore “The Traveling Stories” or is it? You are going to find out in a while.

Cut to the present time, our investment banker turned bookstore owner Rushel and the editor cum writer Richa is running a successful bookstore for almost a year now. In the past 1 year, they have traveled 3 states from their humble abode in Mughal Sarai. Now they are looking to tie up with some publishers. Richa’s previous experience has made it easy to approach people. So here they were negotiating with a publisher to support their new bookstore.
“Let’s approach the Pinnacle Publishers, I have heard they support small bookstores like us”, suggested Rushel one day.
“Nah! They are quite stringent with their rules and regulations. For them, it’s always the apple of the eye. They always support bookstores from major cities” said Richa.
“What about the place where you worked? What’s its name? Yes, the Best Books Publishing House” asked Rushel.
“That doesn’t seem like a possibility. They only support a recognized franchise. It’s a lost cause, approaching them”, said Richa.
“Then we are stuck in a limbo”, said a disgruntled Rushel.

So that impromptu conversation led to the current scenario. 3 months and 25 applications later, they finally found a publisher of their choice. It was a reasonably well-to-do publishing house in New Delhi, named “The Elshire Publication”.

Since then, it has been an uphill task of negotiation. While Richa and Rushel wanted to tie up with them so that they can get hold of various kinds of books for their traveling bookstore, the publishing house wanted the bookstore to be a grand affair. This has led to the current commotion and headache that followed.

“I am afraid we have to make some changes in the plan. A huge expenditure is on the horizon”, Richa said to Rushel while putting done the phone. She had just finished speaking to the publisher.

Richa knew this meant further investment but it was Rushel who was getting affected. Rushel belongs to an affluent business family but she wanted to carve out her own identity. So she ditched the family business and that meant living on her own in an unknown city. But she toiled hard and survived in this cut-throat competitive world. A hard-worker and a good student, she made her way to the top, in no time. Soon she became an investment banker.

10 years later, she has ditched that glorious lifestyle in search of a new world. A world that is true to her true self. A world that recognizes her, a world which has been her all. The world of books. She invested all her savings on this bookstore. She was virtually bankrupt and living on the little bit she was earning as a freelancer. Now, this news of further investments will burn a hole in her pocket.

Rushel remained silent.
“Well, say something!” Richa implored.
“Hmmm” said Rushel and looked out of the window.
It was raining heavily – both inside and outside. She had nowhere to go. She couldn’t possibly tell her best friend about her condition – that she had spent all her savings on this bookstore. Even her house is on a mortgage. Apparently, even friends have a distance between them and it widens with time. It’s like that line from her favourite ghazal “Jitna joh nazdik hain use utni doori hain”. She missed her mother in times like these.

“When there is a will, there is a way,” said Susheela, Rushel’s mother. She had passed away 3 years ago. Her father didn’t allow her into the house even on that day. Rakesh completely disowned her since she had left home.
“Where’s the way Maa? Show me the way”, whispered Rushel.

She remained silent all the way home. Rushel saw a child playing along the road on her way home. He was lonesome kid enjoying the rain without being worried about illness or worldly troubles. Seeing her sad and grumpy face, the street child offered her a coin.

“This is the coin of good luck. It had brought the rain today and now I can go home without a worry”

“An empty stomach buys a wishful umbrella of hope”

The kid was an umbrella seller. He knew the rainy season will sell his umbrellas.
Rushel kept the coin in her raincoat pocket and walked ahead. She failed to understand what the boy had said. She couldn’t understand how an empty stomach could give her hope. The next morning she saw the same kid selling umbrellas at the bus stop. Every 3rd person bought one. Sooner than later, he had sold more than 7 umbrellas. The rain of hope had indeed arrived.

Rushel understood what she had to do. She ran to the bookstore.
“Why are you panting?” asked Richa.
“I have got an idea. Let’s set up a book cafe”, said Rushel gasping for her breath.
“Are you out of your mind? Where will we get the money for that? Also, who will cook?” asked Richa.
“Don’t worry. I’ll deck up the place with my harry potter posters and we get those red and white plastic chairs and tables which we used for the get-together last year. As for the food, I will take care of it”, said Rushel.
“Ah! I forgot what a great cook you are!” said an overjoyed Richa.
And with it started the only book café of Mughal Sarai, “The Traveling Stories”.

Rushel’s idea became an instant hit among the college students. They thronged this small book café to enjoy a quiet afternoon in the company of books, music, and a hot cuppa. They even had a book exchange and borrowing program where students can borrow books in exchange for another book. The atmosphere was thriving and within a few months, Richa and Rushel made a fortune out of it.

“Now, we can go for the big investment”, said a Rushel happily.
But Richa had an unpleasant look on her face.
“What happened?” asked Rushel.
“Look at this email”, said Richa while handing her the laptop.
Rusheel took over the laptop and was horrified to read it. She couldn’t believe what she was reading.
It was a mail from the publishing house.

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her.

“We are sorry to inform you, we can’t wait any longer. We have chosen another bookstore. Good luck on finding your desired publisher”, read the email.

Rushel’s world turned upside down. She seems to collapse into a whirlwind of darkness where only a single sound resonated. The sound of her father’s voice saying “You won’t amount to anything in life.”

8 weeks passed by since then. Rushel and Richa have gone their separate ways. Rushel who was suffering from bipolar disorder since her childhood days lost her only friend in this process. She has a bookstore franchise now – running in 2 hillside towns – Nainital and Kathgodam. Richa, on the other hand, has become a successful businesswoman running a famous restaurant chain. “The Traveling Stories” is still there but instead of Richa and Rushel’s traveling stories, it has become only Rushel’s traveling stories.

Apparently, Richa had something else in mind. She was making her own negotiations all along the time Rushel was working to successfully run the book café. She was planning to take over the “The traveling Stories” and reaped the benefits of the earnings, in the meanwhile.

She had secretly made all the negotiations with the publishers and even registered a fake bookstore in her name. The publisher chose Richa’s bookstore which was nothing but a fake.
Rushel found this out when she caught some irregular activities in the accounts of the bookstore.

“Our accounts tally don’t match up. There’s an expenditure of 50,000 on the purchase of new books which I don’t remember” said Rushel
“You must have overlooked it. Check the email, the laptop is over there.”

Rushel opened it to check the receipts instead she glanced at her friend’s account and got to know about her correspondence with the publisher.
She immediately confronted Richa but she denied and shouted at Rushel. This was unusual for Richa who was a calm and composed person. This made sure that she was cooking up something.

Rushel immediately spoke to the publisher and got the details of the deal. Then it was clear to her that Richa was running an application of a fake bookstore under her own name. Things became very clear to her. An otherwise temperamental Rushel took this cooly. She invited the publisher to their bookstore.

The following weekend, Richa’s lie was busted as the publisher came unannounced as planned.

Since, then “The Traveling Stories” began a new journey – the beginning of a beautiful ending.

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