The library-cum-bookstore on wheels travelling across 20 states of India to promote reading.
When you’re a book lover, which is increasingly becoming a rare phenomenon in our times, there is no greater joy than visiting a bookstore, smelling the books, spending hours reading blurbs and being amazed by the covers, and eventually, taking a whole stack of them home. Every now and then, one comes across bibliophiles like Akshaya Rautaray and Satabdi Mishra, who find new, innovative ways to spread the joy of reading. Like converting an old second-hand van into a bookshop on wheels and travelling for a quarter of the year taking it across the country. Yes, I’m talking about Walking BookFairs, run by the Bhubaneshwar-based couple, which is soon coming to a city near you.
With over 4000 books in their part-library, part-bookstore, they are travelling around 10,000 km and covering more than 20 states. Being the crazy book lady that I am, interviewing the pair was the most natural thing to do:
The idea of taking books to places is wonderful! What prompted you to start this journey, and how has it grown?
Walking BookFairs was born in the small town of Semiliguda in Koraput district of Odisha in 2014.
The idea was to take books to people who have been denied the joy of reading for ages. We did not find real bookshops with story books or libraries that were open to all and functional in many parts of Odisha. The only bookshops that exist are shops selling stationery/mobile recharge vouchers or textbooks and guide books.
We wanted the common man to look at books, hold a book, read a book and also be able to buy a book. We started taking books to nearby villages and small towns and displayed books on the footpath and other public spaces where the common man could easily have a look at books without feeling intimidated.
Later in 2014, we were able to buy a second hand old Maruti van and we travelled all Odisha with books. Walking BookFairs has travelled more than 10,000 km in the state of Odisha taking books to people in all 30 districts of the state.
Clearly, the book truck and cafe is a labour of love by the two of you, and your physically being there makes it all the more amazing and warm as an experience. Can you tell me more about how the love for each other and books began?
Walking BookFairs is an independent bookshop in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. We also have a travelling bookshop (The Walking BookFairs Maruti Van). The WBF book truck is the newest addition to WBF - We got it custom-made for our first ever All India Tour - 'Read More India 2015'.
It is a wonderful experience to travel to different parts of India - to meet different people, to take books to different areas, to see how people all over the country live and work. It is deeply overwhelming when people from all over the country come over to meet us and to take a look at books.
It's been almost two years since you've been promoting books and reading. Have you seen a considerable change in the mindset of people whose lives you touched? Do they write back to you?
Yes, it has been two years since we started WBF. It is just the beginning. To bring about any change in the society or in people's attitude towards reading will take continuous efforts. More and more people need to understand that reading is important.
We just hope to inspire and encourage more people everywhere to understand the importance of reading books and contribute to the society in a more meaningful way.
Can you share some of the loveliest interactions you have made with your customers?
It is always a little overwhelming to meet people everywhere. The challenge is always those parents and teachers who do not understand the importance of reading for pleasure and are hesitant to introduce children to story books.
What are on your personal reading shelves and habits like? What are you both reading at the moment? What's your favourite book?
We are surrounded by books all the time. We keep reading on and off, all the time. Sometimes, a page from this book, sometimes a paragraph from some other book.
Akshaya: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is my favorite book of all time
Satabdi: The Adivasi Will Not Dance by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is my recent favourite.
Do you think the future of physical hardcover books is bleak compared to e-books in today's world?
Not at all. On the contrary, the physical book will never die. E-books might become obsolete in the years to come.
Does it ever get tiring to travel the country with an entire library of books accompanying you? Could you take me through the setup - what vehicle do you use, how many books are with you at any point of time, are they second-hand books or new? Is the discount a constant?
The WBF book truck is a pick-up truck with customised bookshelves built in to the cargo space of the pick-up truck. We have about 4000 books on the truck (All are in English). These are all new books as we do not deal in used books. The WBF truck is a free library for all - everybody is welcome to browse and read as long as they want for free at the venue. It is also a bookshop where all books are on a 20% discount. Walking BookFairs always has a 20% discount on all books, all year round.
I understand that publishers like Harper Collins India, Pan Macmillan India and Parragon Publishing India are collaborating with you on this? What is their role exactly?
These three publishers are our partners for the 'Read More India 2015' India Tour. They are supporting us in terms of books for the free library - to promote reading across the country.
How do you pick the location to park the truck and work at each place? Do you have a network of supporters and friends in each place who help?
We pick a spot where we can park the book truck and open it out to the public to browse, read or buy. In some places, we find friends who support us by hosting us but not all the time. It is difficult to find a parking space in India. Walking BookFairs is run by the two of us. We do not have any other employees or staff.
20 states in 90 days. That's really impressive. Can you tell me about the progress and what you've learnt about the readers and what experiences you've had in some of the states you visited recently?
We have reached Pune in Maharashtra as part of the 'Read More India 2015' tour. Maharashtra is our 9th state on this tour. We have spent 41 days on the road on this tour as of today. We will be going to Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat-Rajasthan-Haryana-Punjab-Uttarakhand-Delhi-Uttar Pradesh-Bihar-Jharkhand-West Bengal-Odisha.
By Rohini Kejriwal
Photo Credit: Walking BookFairs