Every day, after the sunset in the city of joy, the air in the tight alleys gets heavy with the breaths of banished poets and lets an ancient fragrance loose to catch the dreamers. Drawn by the smell in such a soaked evening, a certain dreamy young man wakes up in a cloudy ‘Book Sanctuary’ guarded by a hermit. The friendly hermit commands a vast army of ‘leaf-knights’ dressed in colours painted by readers of all ages. When asked about the legacy of his magical empire, his natural words flow with hopes of a better world and fill the eager ears of the fortunate guest. Arkoprobho Biswas chanced to become the lucky listener of the ever-unfolding stories. The stories of books, the stories of readers, and the stories of the man himself– Brijesh Tiwari …
- For how long have the Tiwaris been dealing in books?
– It’s certainly been a long time since my earlier generation first came to Kolkata to start a book business. I actually belong to a farmer family from Uttar Pradesh. But this book business and all started in the 1950s to be precise.
The year 1972 is a mark in the history of our family as it is the year of my great grandmother’s death, our buying of the shop at the Dover lane, and also the year of my birth. But if you talk about ‘Bookline’ in particular, then it is the year 1989, when my elder brother Rameshwar Tiwary first established it. He is the proprietor of the business.
- Currently, how many branches are there?
– There are three branches now- the oldest one in the Dover lane. This one in the Totte lane and the latest one, namely ‘Book-took’ is in E.M Bypass.
- The ‘Book per kg.’ is a novel feature of your business. How did the scheme of come to your mind? Tell us something about ‘Book-took’.
– People nowadays cannot always afford to read books both in terms of money and time. Moreover, the ever increasing craze for e-books and soft copies has put us in a pressing need for thinking something new in terms of bringing people back to reading. Pulping of books is a very common trend in several foreign publishing houses. Due to a constant pressure of adding new books to their collections, those big houses often tend to empty the spaces of the warehouses. We buy those surpluses, discarded, second-hand copies in the lot. Several other libraries do also have this habit of selling discarded books. We take those out of there and re-sell those in nominal, throw-away prices. It is both a social and business concern. It helps us to revive reading and consequently, revive customers. Because it keeps the ‘book-hunger’ alive. And ‘Book-took’ has been launched on this very basis of promoting reading. For the first time in Kolkata, someone is selling books in kilograms.
- We have often found ‘Bookline’ to sell books at a nominal price at the book fair as well. Tell us something about the business policy that you follow there
- –The case is quite similar in the book fair as well. We had been going to several godowns for such book hunts for 28 long years. The key reason behind your getting books at such a low price is our immense effort to pick up the right books from such places and re-price them. And thus ‘Bookline’ has created its own brand and steady customers of its own. The customers have become our relatives. And if you say ‘publicity policy’, then I am an ardent believer of ‘Word of mouth’ publicity. Our old customers themselves bring us new ones. We do not need any special banner with some catchy tags.
- Don’t you feel any sense of competition with other big houses in the book fair?
- No, not at all. They have their own trademark products and a certain target audience. You cannot get a Vintage classic in Oxford. But here, one can get everything under one roof at a discounted price.
- As a bookseller, what are your criteria for selecting books?
- I am a lover of books and I want to own them all. I always look for something unusual. The books, here, are all by choice and not by chance. I have ordered each of these quite consciously and that’s why they are here. I always wonder at the strange way of coming and going of the books. A particular copy might be sold in 15 minutes or even in 15 years. I have an idea and estimation of the demands of my potential customers. Suppose, there are ten consistent customers to pine for books on films or books on sculpture. So I order ten copies on the basis of that estimation. And there is always a chance that I might not be able to sell the ten copies. The left ones will then automatically contribute to my ‘Rare Collection’. Those might not be reprinted later as well. And thus, those might add something antique to my collection. (chuckles)
- What is your take on Mall bookstores and online bookstores?
- The mall bookstores are nothing but the publisher’s display platform. There is no agenda or target reader. They hardly know anything about books and more so about the readers. On the other hand, online bookstores do only have a virtual stock. You cannot scroll down the racks there without knowing a name of any particular book.
- How often have you been a victim of book theft? And what is your opinion about that?
- Not many books have been stolen from here. And I think that the book thieves are never genuine, voracious readers. They get the fun only in stealing a copy itself. If money becomes the only obstacle on anyone’s way of reading, I try my best to help him by permitting him as much discount as possible. Even if a genuine book lover ever asks me to let him borrow a copy for a few days, I will be glad to help him. This is not always and only about money. There is something else to it. As a bookseller, I always encourage reading at any cost. This is my mantra of spreading ‘reading’.
- How do you take care of so many books? Don’t you get puzzled at times?
- As I myself have arranged all of these books, I know which book is where. Though there is no such standard catalogue system like that of a library, yet the system is in my mind. You can call it a ‘Method in Madness’. Apart from that, in terms of maintenance, we usually go for an Annual maintenance program in collaboration with some pest control team. They often come here and spray in the racks.
- How do you cater your ‘reader self’? Do you often get enough time to finish a particular book from its cover to cover?
- I am supposed to be always updated about a new author or a new book on a regular basis. That somehow helps me to become a jack of all trades. Apart from that, if you talk about reading thoroughly, then yes, at times I read thoroughly. If I target a particular book from a new coming lot, I will somehow manage to finish it even if it takes a long time. I mostly tend to go for non-fiction though.
- Tell us something about your customers.
- The customers are everything to us. They are the blessings, both economically and otherwise. The books are both Laxmi and Saraswati to me. And the readers have always been the savior for us from the very first day of the business. We were a farmer family from Uttar Pradesh and my great grandfathers did not have much education either. Yet the platform they had made for us, has become possible only because of our customers. The customers themselves used to suggest the names according to their demands. And that’s how we got enriched. Even I am a non-matriculate person. Yet what I am doing today is all because of you people. My readers are my greatest strength. They have become an integral part of this big book family. And I always feel blessed with the beautiful tokens they come up with. Those can never be expressed in words.
One of the many remarkable gifts from the customers (or should I say ‘fellow readers?’), Brijesh Ji is often seen to cherish…”A Token of Artistry”!
All the photos have been taken by Dipika Giri. (Dipika is a freelance photographer, who takes way too many photos of sky and Kolkata).
Want to visit the store now? Here is the address- (7 Totte Lane, First floor, New Market)
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