Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray recently concluded their extensive “Read More India” tour, which encouraged book-lovers to browse and read a range of fiction and non-fiction books.
Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray recently concluded a book tour in a minivan stocked with books, travelling over 10,000 kilometres across 20 states, to promote book reading. With a little help from friends and books from their own bookstore, they decided to do a two-person campaign in favour of book-reading.
Majid Maqbool interviewed Satabdi Mishra about their journeys – both literal and figurative.
Where did this idea come from?
We started Walking Book Fairs in January 2014 in the small town of Semiliguda located in the Koraput district of Odisha. While travelling in Koraput, we found that most small towns and villages in India did not have bookshops or libraries and people have no access to books. We wanted the common man to be able to read books. We started by carrying books in a backpack and walked to nearby villages to display books on the footpath and at bus stops, venues where the common people generally congregate.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that people showed interest in books. We decided to reach out to more people in other parts of the state too but it was difficult to carry books in a backpack or box and travel in crowded buses. We bought a secondhand Maruti Omni van with the help of some friends and put our book boxes in the van and travelled all over the state displaying books in public places. This is how Walking BookFairs – the travelling bookshop and library was born.
We opened a physical brick-and-mortar book shop in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, in 2015. We have travelled throughout Odisha taking books to all 30 districts of the state. We have donated many books to communities and government schools for them to open up their own libraries.
What was your experience of travelling around Odisha and out of the state?
It was very disturbing. Beyond certain urban centres, bookshops and libraries were almost non-existent. We found big international schools without libraries. We found big universities where students do not read anything beyond their course curriculum.
Were you able to sell many books?
To be honest, the “Read More India” tour was focussed more on promoting reading and books, not so much on selling. All the books in our book truck were open for people to browse and read for free at the venue. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that many people bought books from us everywhere.
What kind of books were you carrying?
We had a curated selection, largely fiction, which included books of poetry, children’s books, picture books and classics. In the non-fiction books, we had books politics, sociology, psychology, biographies, art and cinema. We kept a varied collection so that all kinds of people could find something. We met all sorts of book lovers. In Bastar we were stopped many times by policemen for questioning, but they also asked us to ‘gift’ them books! We did give them some – a few picture books and books for their children.
Were the book readers you met different depending on the place?
We found that people who live in smaller towns and villages are interested in books but they do not have access to books (no bookshops or libraries). People in the bigger towns do have some access to books but as a whole Indians do not think of “reading for pleasure” as a gainful activity. There is more focus on reading curriculum-based books to get marks and eventually jobs.
Do you see regional literature being read much?
Did you carry regional literature?
All books were in English because it was a tour across 20 states (with different languages).
How did you display your books?
Our book truck had an open display of books on both sides of the truck. We parked in public spaces, schools, universities – anywhere we could find a wide open space for parking – and opened the book truck for people to browse, read books at the venue for free or buy books at a discount of 20%.
We had all kinds of people come to browse and read and buy books from us. For a large number of people, it is intimidating to walk into a shop, even to browse. It is also true that many people cannot buy books.