Second-hand and old book shops | Magical spaces making knowledge accessible

'Shri. Jagannath Kunte's book that too for ₹30! Isn't it insulting for an author and loss for the publishers?', 'How can people give away such a wonderful book? At least they could have sold it second hand, given it to some library or just given it away to some reader.' If like many other readers, your head is buzzing with such questions, it's no surprise. Many years back, even I was thinking on these lines. Then something happened which changed my perspective.

Some time in 2010, while cleaning a cupboard, I found what seemed to be an old diary. Wrapped in multiple layers of polythene bags, I knew this had something to do with my grandfather as he was very particular about using and storing things carefully. It was his diary.

While studying for my bachelors, I used to visit some nearby old paper marts and second-hand book shops for reference books. It was then that I found the real treasure these shops were preserving. Behind the in-demand academic reference books stacked at the entrance were hundreds of books ignored by many. You name the subject or the author and there is high possibility of finding a particular book. I was thrilled to find old copies of National Geographic magazine, which stopped newsstand sale from 2024, as low as ₹30-₹50! No, I'm not referring to pirated copies that arrived much later on the streets. One could also find really old works of highly acclaimed national and international authors.

The shop owner and his family usually stayed in the back end of the shop with his wife and children often assisting him. While the salesman had escaped formal education, his knowledge of authors and diverse subjects was surprising. Unlike the modern day bookshops-cum-cafes, he didn't have to bother about cozy interiors or customer relations. The shop had organically become a community centre which catered to people from diverse backgrounds, age groups, intellectual and emotional needs. I would often see school kids frequenting the shop for comic books and a grandma visiting it to buy her monthly magazines.

I couldn't stop myself from describing one such shop in my debut novella, The Last Nomad. These book shops are museums of memories. Hundreds of books and periodicals used by many generations lie there waiting to meet their new readers. You can read handwritten notes in the margins and instantly know something about the previous readers. You can sometimes find letters tucked in some books. The title page often reveals the occasion on which the book was purchased and whether it was a gift on some special occasion. Many old books from school and college libraries also find its way to these old book shops.

While reading my grandfather's diary, I realized how we have little or no value for access to information and knowledge resources thanks to omnipresent technology. Thus, these book shops are not only a source of livelihood for the seller and his family, but they make access to knowledge affordable. Imagine reading Rabindranath, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, P.L.Deshpande, R.K.Narayan or Aravind Adiga only for ₹50! As books lying on our shelves and libraries become old and their end seems near, these book sellers revive and grant them a new life.

Do you have any memories about these books and shops? I would like to read your experience in the comments section.

- The Last Nomad
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