Satabdi Mishra is a bookseller, bookmobile driver and co-founder of Walking BookFairs, an independent brick and mortar bookshop, traveling bookshop and library established in 2014. She operates from Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
Yes. It is difficult but then what is easy in life?
In between the both of us, we manage to get things done. We do not have any other employees or staff working for us. We do everything by ourselves, from dusting books to stocking books, to carrying books to selling books.
And making tea for friends and visitors.
Before developing a habit or taste comes access to books. Everybody you look at today has a mobile phone in their hands. That is because we as a society have made mobile phones accessible. If there were bookshops and libraries everywhere just like we have cafes, restaurants, malls everywhere and celebrities were promoting books every second on tv and social media there would probably be a book in every hand.
But we have not made books accessible. Neither in cities, or small towns or villages. But at the same time we have coke, lays potato chip, Tata Sky, Dish TV, liquor stores, cars and motorbikes shops in the remotest places.
I see very few urban parents who are willing to buy story books for their children. More often than not I see children at our bookstore who want to buy a story book but parents drag them away. In the last four years of bookselling across India, I have found very few parents who encourage their children to read. Also our society promotes every other thing but reading and books. I think parents, teachers, and everybody in general should encourage children to read more story books, buy more story books, spend more time with their children, read stories to them, take their children to visit bookshops and libraries.
I also think it is important to let children be. It is okay to watch videos or tv too.
There is too much control and pressure on children to confirm. But Indian urban parents with a dispensable income definitely need to look at reading as a pleasurable activity and not just as a means to score marks in exams to get degrees, jobs and cars.
We just made the most of the resources available to us and thought that people would like to walk into a space that is warm and welcoming. We welcome visitors to browse and look around for as long as they want. Many people have told us they love being in our bookstore and that it helps in relaxing them.
It has been very difficult to sustain a bookshop because very few people read books and even fewer actually buy from a brick and mortar bookshop. We have managed to keep it going because ours is a small independent business where we make all decisions, don’t follow any rule books and most important, we make it work by putting all our time and energy into our work because we don’t have a choice.
Our bookshop is also our bread and butter. It is not something we do for kicks. Our struggle for survival is an everyday struggle. It is not just online competition, we also have to deal with the great apathy of a society that hates any kind of change, equality and openness.
For us books and everything they stand for are not just a way of life, but also a tiny glimmer of hope for a better world and we are not letting go.
Our customers are amazing people because they choose to buy books from our brick and mortar bookshop. They are all very special people, most of our customers have become dear friends and we chat for hours over tea when they visit.
Let me tell you about a recent experience which also shows us how important bookshops are for any community. On a recent book sale at our bookshop the first customer was a young 13 year old school boy who came in with the pocket money he had saved to buy a story book.