Satabdi Mishra and Akshray Routaray started Walking Bookfairs with this conviction, stacking their books in a van and travelling up and down history.
As 2015 slips into 2016, they’re doing the same thing, only on a bigger scale. This time they’re taking Walking Bookfairs V 2.0 – a newer, bigger truck – across the country. They’ll probably visit your city too.
And that is why theirs is the Bookshop of the Year. At a time when physical bookstores are finding it all but impossible to survive the onslaught of online discounting and steep High Street rentals, Walking Bookfairs is taking books where people want them – to small towns, to villages, to schoolchildren hungry for books.
“I always thought bookshops are magical places,” says Mishra. She’s right. Hers and Rautaray’s certainly is.
“We will be touring 20 states – 10,000 km – in India in our mobile book-truck for three months. We have been stopping at schools, colleges, book fairs, residential colonies, public spaces, anywhere that we can park and open our book-truck to conduct public book displays where anybody can come, browse and read books for free and also buy books at a discount if they so wish.
And we can say that there is a need and demand for books everywhere because more than a thousand school children that we met on the tour so far had big smiles on their faces when they were browsing and reading story books.
“Why are you saying thank you to me? We should say thank you to you for bringing these valuable books to us,” said a booklover in his 80s who bought The Hindus by Wendy Doniger in Khammam, Telangana.”
Here’s what they’ve seen so far on their journey. And what they haven’t seen.
“Bastar, Chhatisgarh: Thousands of police men, army men, army camps, guns and grenades. Millions of rupees spent on arms, ammunition, sophisticated weaponry, manpower, infrastructure. No bookshops. No libraries.
Khammam, Telangana: Thousands of schools and engineering colleges. Millions of rupees spent on infrastructure, buildings, air-conditioned classrooms, fountains, gardens. No bookshops. No libraries. No storybooks.
Hyderabad, Telangana: Hour-long traffic jams, garbage, pollution, shopping malls, luxury cars, poverty. Millions of rupees spent on construction of roads, infrastructure, expressways, IT hubs, shopping malls, restaurants, premium apartment buildings. Just a few bookshops selling self help books, English grammar and reference books, text books, guide books.
Ongole, Andhra Pradesh: Thousands of car showrooms, shops, restaurants, marriage halls. Millions of rupees spent on cars, clothes, mobile phones, land and property. No bookshops. No libraries.
Elliots Beach Road, Chennai, Tamil Nadu: Fried chicken, pizza, tattoo parlours, costa coffee, beach facing restaurants and cafes, weekend zumba classes, cars. No bookshops. No libraries.
Auroville Road, Pondicherry: Endless rows of Italian, Japanese, German, Israeli restaurants, candle shops, spas, resorts, curio shops, antique shops, souvenir shops, tattoo parlours. No bookshops. No libraries.”