Helal Hejazi grew up visiting a small bookshop located in Chattogram's Cheragi Pahar. The bookshop gave the boy more than what his port city could offer: a virtual world tour without having to board a real ship, which, needless to say, was impossible in his teens.
Now fully grown-up, Helal, an IT professional, has seen the bookshop grow up too.
Since 2005, the small bookshop at Cheragi Pahar, named Baatighar, has grown steadily, like many of its younger customers such as Helal.
In 2012, it was relocated to a much larger space at the Chattogram Press Club. Today, Baatighar has two more stores - one in Dhaka, which launched in 2017, and another in Sylhet, which was inaugurated in April, 2020.
Based on the collection of books, ambience, interior design, reader-friendly policy, etc, many book-lovers feel that Baatighar, as a bookstore, is unparalleled in the country. The three stores have one lakh books each, on dozens of topics.
Each of Baatighar's branches is themed after the heritage of the city it is located in. Apart from the books, there are other aspects of the stores that equally attract book-lovers.
"I love the interior of Baatighar Chattogram. The theme is more relatable with the name Baatighar," Rifat Sanjida, an HR professional working with an INGO, said.
Baatighar Chattogram is adorned with a replica lighthouse (Baatighar in Bangla) among a number of other ship-related objects such as anchors, bollards, etc. People often sit on the bollards as they leaf through the books.
Some aspects of one Baatighar branch may overshadow another.
"I feel the salespersons at Baatighar Chattogram are well-acquainted with books. They know better about the writers and easily understand what a reader is looking for," said Rifat. "It may be because they've been working for a long time compared to those working in Dhaka. But I must mention that the difference is nominal," she added, drawing a comparison between the different branches of Baatighar.
The different branches of the superstore for books give readers different vibes. Helal Hejazi says he feels more at home at Baatighar Chattogram.
"There is a cosy atmosphere at Baatighar Chattogram. It feels more like a reading room than a bookstore with its measured lights and everything. There were times when I finished reading a book sitting right there," said the IT professional.
Baatighar Dhaka, beautifully themed after the Lalbagh Fort, is located on the seventh floor of the Bishwo Shahitto Kendro Building in Banglamotor and it has its own unique charms.
Rubayat Khan, a writer and development professional, feels that this place is more spacious and loves it very much.
"There was a time when I used to be at Baatighar Dhaka five days a week and spent five hours each day sitting there reading books. It was like a second home to me," said the writer.
Apart from the spacious and comfortable interior, Rubayat also mentioned other amenities that pull him towards the bookstore.
"There is a seating arrangement on the balcony and you can enjoy a cup of tea paired with some puris and shingaras at the rooftop restaurant of Bishwo Shahitto Kendro while spending time with friends," Rubayat explained, adding, "When I have to meet a friend, I ask that friend to come to Baatighar where we can talk, buy books and then spend some time at the restaurant."
But do all the different branches of Baatighar have the same collection of books? Al Maruf Russel, a historian and archaeologist, said that the books are not always the same. He found a number of books in Baatighar Chattogram which he searched for everywhere, including at Baatighar Dhaka.
"For example, I found 'Amader Jibone Pakhi'- a book from Kolkata- at the Chattogram store. I felt that you'd find all the books from famous writers at Baatighar Dhaka but when it comes to really useful books, Chattogram branch is the best place to look for," the book-lover said.
Literature enthusiasts liberally admire Baatighar and appreciate the bookstore's reader-friendly policy that allows anybody to read a book while sitting at the store for an extended period.
The loyal customers of Baatighar are always eager about checking out the new stores of Baatighar.
Since Baatighar Sylhet was only inaugurated last April, people from around the country did not get much chance to travel and visit that store due to the ongoing pandemic.
The interior of the store, located in the city's Zindabazar area, houses a replica of the iconic Kean Bridge and Ali Amjad's clock to represent the heritage of the city. A recent visit to the store revealed that it is just as superb as its predecessors in the other two cities.
It is, however, difficult to say how much the book-lovers will enjoy the Sylhet store after walking out of the place with sore legs. The store's astounding collection of books is capable of trapping you there for hours, but the place has only one set of chair and table that can accommodate only one reader at a time, with nowhere else to sit while people leaf through a book.