In the Fort area of Bombay, behind the lane of High court, you will find rows of books lying on the foot-park. The books are arranged in the 3 stacks according to prices: Rs 30 ($ 0.50), Rs 60 ($1) & Rs 100 ($1.75). I asked Shankar, who ran the place, how he priced the books, on which he replied that the pricing depends on the condition of the book and his purchase price. All the books on sale were used ones, bought from individuals, public libraries or exchanged there.
Shankar had an elegance and ethicate of an usual book sellers. He never interrupted while you browsed the books, helped only when asked for, offered a place to seat if you wanted to read few pages and entertained no bargaining. On a peaceful Sunday afternoon, Shankar’s offered better ambiance than most of the book stores in the city. Resting below the shades Pepal tree, you can find the old copies of Lonely Planets, National Geographics, Orange Penguin Paperbacks, the classics and the bestsellers of yesteryear. On the background is the beautiful Victorian buildings of Bombay, and not -so busy streets (thank you Sunday)
I asked Shankar how was his business to which he replied thik thaak (not bad).
“Earlier it was much better”
How earlier? I asked
4-5 years back. I used to sell pirated copies more than these Second hand books. The margins on them were very good.
“Weren’t you afraid of cops ?”
“That time it was not a big deal. But gradually, it became very difficult. If they caught a hawker like me selling pirated book, it is the end of his life. The fine is more than Rs 50,000 ($800) and with imprisonment, there is no sight of hope for him. That’s why I left that business behind me.”
What kind of books you usually sell most?
“This street was famous for only 2 things: Art gallery and Court. People use to come here to buy law and Art Books. One time, a firangi paid Rs 4000 for a coffee table book. That was my best sell till date.”
He went on telling me the story of his prime when there were 4 book sellers on the street. Now the number in down to 2. Both the margins and the volumes are down. He can not compete with the internet and home delivery. I told him that even the big stores are facing the same challenge. The art of survival is in innovation and his style of selling books is pleasant. He looked assured and I moved on after buying 2 National Geographic Magazines, dated Sept 1987 and July 1986 for Rs 30 each.
What are your views on the Street Book sellers and on their contribution to the culture of the city ? Do write your views.
My theme for #AtoZChallenge is Indian Writing in English. To know more about #AtoZChallenge, please visit the link