It is oddly romantic when two people come together for a cause, but when they develop lifelong partnership over books; it translates into something a lot more meaningful. After meeting each other at a book store, Akshaya Rautaray – aged 35 and Satabdi Mishra – aged 33 set out on a journey to make the world a better place, one book at a time. Their passion for books and travelling led them to quit their jobs and begin their venture called ‘Walking BookFairs’. The couple has travelled 10,000 km in 20 states of India for 3 months to promote reading with their portable bookshop on wheels.
Armed with more than 4000 books, The WBF book truck is a free library where everybody can browse and read books at the venue for free and also a bookshop where all books are on a 20% discount. It started in 2014, in Koraput district of Odisha and Walking Bookfairs has come a long way, changing many lives.
1. Tell us about walking bookfairs.
Walking BookFairs believes that books are for everybody. We believe in spreading the joy of reading all around. We have been conducting many activities to inspire more people to read books for the last two years. The WBF ‘Read More India 2015’ India Tour is one such activity to promote reading and to take good books to more people all over India.
2. How did you go about setting up this library on wheels?
We started Walking BookFairs to take books to more people everywhere. There are many places in our country where there are no bookshops or libraries. We, as a society too do not consider reading beyond textbooks important. Parents and teachers do not introduce students to storybooks. There is a very small percentage of people in India who read books. The WBF ‘Read More India 2015’ India tour is an attempt to inspire and encourage more people to read more books (by books we do not mean textbooks). Also it is an opportunity for thousands of people in various parts of the country with no access to good books to browse and read books for free or buy books at a good discount.
It is also a celebration of books, writers, bookshops, libraries and ideas.
3. What was the source of inspiration and, why books?
Books are an important tool for social change. Reading books is an essential part of life. We believe that bookshops are the real universities of our society and in books we find real learning.
4. Which city was your first stop and how was the response?
The first state on the tour was Chhattisgarh. We were travelling through the sensitive red corridor – Bastar and Sukma. We were stopped many times for questioning by the police and were also detained in the Sukma police station for over an hour. We found that most of the forest has been taken over by the army. The government is spending a huge amount of money on building sophisticated army camps in the jungles. But we did not find any bookshops or libraries.
5. Which cities have you covered so far?
We have reached the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border as I write this. We have travelled through Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra so far.
6. You don’t provide academic books, why is that so?
We are a bookshop. We have books that tell stories from all around the world. We think these are much more important than textbooks. We believe in reading for pleasure and not reading for getting marks or a degree or a job.
In India there is too much focus on getting good marks, securing degrees to land a job. But this is a dangerous trend. By not introducing students to storybooks we are denying them imagination and independent thinking.
7. Which is your favorite book?
Satabdi – I am reading ‘Inventing the Enemy’ by Umberto Eco right now.
Akshaya – ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus is one of my favorite books.
8. What age groups do you cater to?
We have tried to keep all kinds of books in the book truck for everybody – We have books for all age groups.
9. How do you deal with language barrier when it comes to supplying books?
All the books in the WBF book truck for the ‘Read More India 2015’ tour are in English. Since we are travelling across India (20 states) where we find many different languages, we decided to give regional language books (which are already available locally) a miss.
This gives an opportunity to people to look at, browse and read some of the best books in the world, which might not be available or accessible by them easily.
Also, we have many beautifully illustrated children’s books – which even children who cannot read or write can ‘read’.
10. What are you future plans? What is your goal?
We do not have any future plans as such. We love books and we love spreading the joy of reading around. We will continue to do so in some form or the other.
There is definitely a lot one can take away from their perspective. As a society, we always stress on the importance of education, but the best way of educating children is not by beating knowledge into their minds. We hope that through meaningful startups like Walking Bookfairs, there is growth in today’s generation’s characters and imagination.