The concept of book-hawkers perhaps would be absolutely in sync with a city like Kolkata which has an entire 1.5km stretch devoted to the cause of books and aficionados of books. Not only the famous ‘College Para’ as Bengalis call it, localities in south Kolkata such as Golpark too are well-known for having sprawling stretches of footpaths covered with books. The prime attraction of these book-lovers’ havens is the sizable quantities available at inconceivably cheap prices. It would be a little unusual to find one such bookstall at a remote outer fringe of the city like the still developing Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.
Though the conspicuously coloured large banner stands out, the lone stall peeping out from a small breadth of construction space can stand to be pretty evasive to the eyes of passersby. Not only is the fact unusual that of all kinds of businesses to flourish along the borders of a sparsely populated bypass were to pop out a shop selling books, but also that the sale of books in this shop is not at all inspired by the motif of garnering monetary profit.
For the owner and builder of this space, it is the idea of catering to the reading interests of the present generation, one that is steadily shifting its interest from reading onto more occupying virtual pursuits, at really affordable prices. The stall sells books worth a kilogram at a price of two hundred. Says owner Ramesh Tiwary, “I have been an ardent lover of books since childhood. So it was my intention to provide books that cost four or five hundred at ordinary stores at far lesser prices. I wanted to attract young people back to the world of reading by making the activity a lot less money-bound.”
About two or three years back when the stall first opened, the shelves were mainly filled with the standard stock of literary classics or popular fiction, crime thrillers and the like. The collection was pretty clichéd though the bargain was pretty attractive: about three or four five hundred page books to be swamped in a go only at the cost of two hundred rupee notes.
Now as time has passed and more people have come to know about the shop, the collections on the shelves have evolved themselves manifold. From P.D. James to James Joyce, Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, the shelves of paperback as well as hardback fictions would surprise one with its variety. Exploring the collections, though not structurally organised can prove to be quite an exciting venture. For just to the right of a book on Karl Marx’s life and philosophy one would find a fat thousand page rendering of the history of Israel and a simplified interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays to the left.
On the shelves showcasing the newer collection which do not sell by weight but have 20 percent discount applicable, a huge collection of all the Tintin comics is sure to catch one’s immediate attention. Right beside it, to one’s absolute amazement can be seen small fifty page booklets accounting short episodes from Greek mythology like instances of King Caligula’s madness or Icarus’s fall from the sky.
“But do customers frequent this isolated spot quite enough?” – was received with a warmly stretched monosyllabic affirmative from one of the shop attendants who was spoken to. “About 12-15 customers visit us each day on an average. Students from Jadavpur University that is quite close by frequent our shop quite often. Often we receive customers who take books weighing 10-15 kg”, a smiling Raju Baidya who has been working t the shop since it first opened comments.
With entrepreneurs such as these, the literary culture of Kolkata feared to be fizzling out steadily, is sure to be revived and reinstated.
Photographs: Samriddha Dutta