At a time when the concept of reading for fun is on the decline, this Odisha couple has stepped in to make a difference. Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray are driving across the length and breadth of India to promote the reading habit.
It is their sheer love for books that made the founders of Walking BookFairs, Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray, embark on a journey to make books accessible to every person in the country. They have undertaken an all-India tour, Read More India – 2015, on their mobile library with a mission to cover 20 states in 3 months.
It all began in the tribal district of Koraput, Odisha, when they carried books in backpacks and walked around villages, displaying the books at public spaces.
Their friends helped them pool in some money to buy an old Maruti Omni van and they then traveled across Odisha, displaying books in small towns and villages.
“We covered all 30 districts of Odisha with the books and traveled 10,000 km. We now conduct various interesting activities to encourage more people to read books and also to spread the joy of reading all around.”
As part of the current tour, they travel in a book van which is a free library. It also doubles up as a bookshop where they offer 20% discount on all books.
“We hope to encourage and inspire people everywhere to read more books. By books we mean storybooks, not text books or academic books.”
Satabdi and Akshaya talk to The Better India about their journey so far and what they hope to achieve this year.
Q: What prompted you to start this initiative?
A: The fact that very few people are reading books (beyond text books/competitive exam books, etc.) Also the fact that there are not enough bookshops or libraries anywhere in India. Not even in big metros of the country. But we have shopping malls, car showrooms, and restaurants. We as a society for a long time have not thought of ‘reading for pleasure’ as being important. We focus more on textbooks to get marks, degrees to get jobs in life, and to buy more things. But reading stories from all over the world is the most real education one can ever get. To understand the world around us, we need to read more books.
Q: It is definitely not easy to be on the road for such a long period of time. What keeps you going?
A: The love for books and the fact that we believe very strongly in our cause to reach out to more and more people everywhere and to encourage them to start reading.
Q: What are the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
A: The biggest challenge has always been people who do not understand the importance of reading books beyond textbooks. Parents and teachers who focus on good marks are usually hesitant to buy a storybook for their children.
Q: Explain how a typical day is once you set up shop? How many people visit?
A: Once we find a space to park the van, we open it up to the public. We have been getting an overwhelming response everywhere we go. Many people come, to look at books, browse through them, and also to read and buy
Q: Which are the places from where you’ve received the best response?
A: We were received very warmly in Khammam, Telangana. We stayed there for 3 days in New Era School. Thousands of school children came to read books at the book truck and also to buy books.
Q: Any memorable incident you’d like to talk about?
A: Everyday is memorable. Meeting new people, seeing new places etc. But it is also sad to see how human beings are destroying the world around them. We hope that reading books will change that and open our hearts, minds, and souls.
Q: You travel to a lot of offbeat locations like Thrissur, Nagercoil
etc. What are the responses like in smaller areas?
A: Yes, we do prefer going to smaller towns and villages because we believe books are for everyone and people everywhere should have access to good books. Also, we find less traffic jams here!
Q: What are your favourite books?
Satabdi – My recent favourite is ‘The Adivasi will Not Dance’ by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.
Akshaya – My all time favourite is ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus.
Q: Do you have a target audience?
A: Everybody. The poorest farmer in the remotest village in India should also get an opportunity to look at a book, and be able to afford a book.
Q: Which all destinations have you covered already?
A: We have covered Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. We are now in Karnataka. We’ll be going to Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. Walking BookFairs will be in Bangalore on January 13 and 14.
Q: What kind of books do you carry and how many? Do you replenish stock in between?
A: Not many people buy books, so we haven’t had the need to replenish but in case we need to, we will pick up books from publishers on the way.
Q: What about food, accommodation etc.? Especially in remote locations?
A: It is very erratic. We have been lucky with accommodation and food. Many people have come out to support us on this tour. They have offered to host us in their cities/towns and have hosted us in their homes and lovingly fed us food. We are very grateful to all of them.
Q: How are you funding this?
It is a very expensive tour. Even if we sell all the books on the truck, we still won’t be able to recover the money we have put in. Three major publishers are supporting this tour in terms of books: Harper Collins India, Pan MacMillan India, and Parragon Books India.
They will be in Bengaluru on January 13-14, 2016. You can’t miss their book truck on the Brigade road-Residency road junction. In case you can’t find them, buzz or text on +91 8598013877!