Travelling around India, Walking BookFairs has become a source of providing books to the under-privileged across communities and educational platforms
Satabdi Mishra and Akshay Routray are the founders of Walking BookFairs, a bookstore based in India. Born in January 2014, Walking BookFairs originated in the Koraput district of Odisha. Participating in door-door visits, the couple became aware of the lack of bookstores and libraries in the town and decided to gather paperbacks and travel by foot to villages displaying books on footpaths for people to browse, read and buy. Due to a lack of libraries and bookstores within parts of India, towns beyond cities such as Delhi, Bombay and Bengaluru are not accessible to reading. «We wanted to provide books to those deprived of what is considered as a customary skill». Willing to instill a love for books and Indian literature, Mishra and Routray acquired a second-hand van to fill with books, resulting in Walking BookFairs being known as a travelling bookstore and library.
On a voyage around India, the couple have toured twenty states and ten-thousand kilometers of India in their mobile truck for up to three months at a time. Visiting schools, colleges, universities, public spaces and residential colonies. «We’ve travelled about twenty-two thousand miles across the country, affording books to members of the public. We are not a charitable organization but seek to make our products reasonable for everyone». Walking BookFairs receive no financial aid or help from the government and run-on community support and individual’s adoration for the store. «In return, our communities prosper with us. I meet people who come to our store, who talk to us and tell us how books have improved their well-being. Reading has the ability to allow a release of tension, helping people relax and cope with facing anxieties». The Walking BookFairs brick and mortar bookshop and library is located in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Walking BookFairs is home to a selection of writings. Requiring books that represent sections of society, the store is known for its female writers, marginalized-voices, history and travel. «Instead of popular titles, we amplify books that will empower our readers. There is a demand for personal growth, self-help and children’s books. We curate them in order to locate books not available on Amazon». Opening Walking BookFairs Bengaluru in November 2019, the couple were forced to move locations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Uncertain whether or not they would reopen, Mishra and Akshray came into financial strain. In April, during the first nationwide lockdown, books and bookshops were officially deemed non-essential services, creating a struggle for survival. Currently located in a residential area of Bengaluru, the store exists as a weekend pop-up bookshop and library. Situated in the middle of a garden, surrounded by trees and flowers. The stores location provides an area of tranquillity in the commotion of Bengaluru for its consumers and is described as a place to receive book therapy.
Indie bookstores throughout the world are in a fight against corporate companies like Amazon, eBay and Overstock. «As a physical store, we do not participate online. Our digital presence is through our social media sites». Walking BookFairs engage in meet and greet events versus zoom meetings, online events or webinars. «During the coronavirus pandemic, our social media has connected us to our community. In the first lockdown my sister Upali, who runs our Bangalore store, was stuck in her home/bookshop with books and cats. People messaged us through Instagram which meant we could take orders from individuals in the community and send their items through resident delivery services such as Swiggy and Dunzo». Swiggy, a food delivery service, were permitted to continue delivering items. Not officially partnering with Swiggy, Walking BookFairs were able to use their at-home distribution facility through its customers choice of delivery service. «Our inbox was crammed, and the service became our means of business. Upali spent a part of the day (and night) responding to messages, sending out book recommendations, sharing photographs of books and getting book parcels ready for delivery. The operation works for us today, as people are not confident of stepping outside, this way of buying can provide them with a book delivered to their door the day they place the order». For the duration of the pandemic, barring financial constraints, the operations of Walking BookFairs remained as it were. Having no staff to begin with, the two founders faced no issues of staff leaving for their hometowns or having to let people go. Mishra and Routray, with help from Upali have completed each task on their accord, from cleaning to curating, stocking books to handling day-to-day operations, chatting with customers and travelling the country.
«A non-reader can have a connection with books in our pop-up store». The Bengaluru bookshop is open Friday through to Sunday. The set up changes each weekend with contemporary-curation and its up-to-date offers. «Our stores work as places where people can meet. We host a book club, a library and author events here». Writers such as Abinash Dash Choudhury have participated in reading sessions at Walking BookFairs. The store welcomes everyone to interact and provides a space where people can read, without having to pay or buy. Supporting artists, the store hosts tattoo events, poetry open-mic evenings, musical acts and art exhibitions. Affordability being a factor in Walking BookFairs, Mishra and Routray make it a point to collaborate with publishers to offer discounts to their customers, in order to reach an audience. Publishers like HarperCollins India, Pan Macmillan India and Parragon Publishing India partnered with Walking BookFairs in 2015 for the ‘Read More India 2015’ India tour. Penguin Random House has been another to collaborate with Walking BookFairs on a project called ‘Penguin on Wheels’ to spread the elation of reading across India with their travelling-bookshop. «As we are an independent-publisher, we have up to four books lined up for release this year». Having no air conditioning or electricity in their Bhubaneswar shop, they use solar power which enables them to give 20-30% discounts year-round.
Bengaluru has customary and contemporary values. Welcoming tourists to its city life, Walking BookFairs contributes qualities to the city. «We meet people every day and talk to them about books, their families, society and politics». The arts and crafts of Bengaluru are known to be acknowledged world over. From crafts of wood to ivory and Mysore paintings. «We appreciate fine-crafts but agree that it is significant to center our attention on the books as opposed to the design of the store», says Mishra. Hand painted blue bookshelves and plants are the aesthetic. Festivals such as Deepavali, Dussehra and Eid-al-Fitr that are celebrated in India. Over one-thousand temples, four-hundred mosques, one-hundred churches, there Gurudwaras, two Buddhist viharas and a fire temple, Bengaluru classifies as a city filled with cultures and religions cohabiting. «As a bookstore we don’t want to affiliate with religion, we are circular and choose not to celebrate festivals in our store. We do devour curations for these commemorations and house books which reveal the mythology of the celebrations».
Bengaluru has been given the title of ‘Silicon Valley of India’ because of its IT sector and start up technologies. «In today’s era, a majority of urban citizens do not have time for books as they are busy. In India there is a focus on youths obtaining a high-standard of education but creative factors such as reading is not encouraged. We strive towards this and use it to our advantage to make books beyond accessible to the population that are from marginalized communities. In the new-year we are going to continue what we started seven years ago, to continue to inspire, encourage and provide books for people around the globe. It is our seventh anniversary this month and we are running offers and a book sale at our Bengaluru pop-up store». The anniversary sale is in collaboration with Harper Collins India and is available for the month at the two bookshops. «Every year we travel around India and were not able to do this in 2020 due to the covid-19 outbreak. We anticipate resuming this activity in 2021 and look forward to travelling».IMAGE GALLERY
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