Her eyes tell a thousand stories. Stories of the things she has seen in her travels through India. Stories of the anger she carries in her soul for all things wrong in our world. Stories of the struggles and pleasures of an independent bookseller, yes, her eyes tell a thousand stories.
I met her for the feature interview at their book shop, Walking Bookfairs, on a hot June afternoon. She offers me tea and we sit amidst books tracing back the journey of Walking Bookfairs so far.
Satabdi Mishra was born in Kamakhya nagar in Dhenkanal but grew up mostly in MP. She grew up with a childhood like all others. She worked with an advertising company for a while before she met her co-founder of Walking Bookfairs, Akshaya Routray.
Satabdi’s story would be incomplete without his mention.
When the duo was on a holiday in Koraput, they saw something very interesting, Satabdi says, ‘My son was with us, and he had some picture books with him. The local children were fascinated by the books. They wanted to see more. That is when this idea started.’
Initially it was just two people on foot carrying books in their backpacks and displaying them whenever they found a shade or a clean spot.
They didn’t have a place to store the books, and they rented out the garden of a food shack in Bhubaneswar first, ‘so it was just a bookshelf full of books and a bench in a garden’ she says.
Then they rented out their current book shack. They invested in a second hand Maruti Omni van, and travelled through various districts of Orissa to take books to the remote areas. When I ask her what was the reaction of the people like, she smiles and says, ‘The children are always more receptive and welcoming. They love the books. The grownups are slightly more apprehensive, more suspicious. They can tell we are not from the area, and for some of them this is the first time they are seeing a book, so the experience is quite overwhelming for them.’
I then ask about their latest venture, The Read More India 2015 tour, when the duo went across the country covering 10,000 kilometres and 20 states in their new book truck, taking books to people across the country.
Satabdi’s eyes light up, ‘It has been amazing, we have met both negative and positive people. Friends throughout the country have helped us out, the publishing houses have been of great help.’
Satabdi is the one who drove all through India, and when I asked her what was the biggest challenge while driving a truck full of books she laughs and says ,’Parking’
(To know more about the Read India 2015 tour, click on the links given at the end.)
She tells me some more about their travels, and then we slowly start talking about books and others things associated with it. Satabdi has a different take on literary festivals, ‘I do not approve of these literary festivals which are only tools for the authors’ ego boosting and free food. These festivals hardly ever reach out to the people who are the most important, who matter the most, the readers.’
Akshaya joins us now he adds, ‘In Orissa itself we have 3-4 literary festivals, tell me what is the significance of such festivals?! How do they help a reader? How does it reach out to more people, who are actually in need of books?!’
Satabdi adds, ‘Especially when corporate companies like Vedanta and Tata are associated with these festivals, it makes me angry. I have turned down quite a few offers of speaking in such festivals. I will only be a part of them when it becomes about books and people rather than a page 3 event.’
She tells me how she would love to see more bookshops opening up throughout the country, the ones which sell storybooks, not the ones with textbooks only, ‘For we all need stories, you know.’ She smiles. She wishes there were more libraries in her city, and the parents would buy their kids’ books instead of innumerable toys.
I now take our conversation towards women and their empowerment, Satabdi has a wonderful take on that, she says ‘Women must come out of their homes, out of their comfort zones, get a job, contribute to the society and do whatever pleases them. It is not just about financial independence; it is about freedom.’
Finally when I ask her to give a message for our readers, she laughs out, ‘Do I have to? She asks amused.
When I nod in affirmative, she says after a pause ‘Make your own choice and read more books.’
Satabdi Mishra, you are one Incredible Woman. It has been an honour knowing you.
To know more about Walking Bookfairs follow their Facebook page: Walking Bookfairs
To know more news about Walking Bookfairs and READ MORE INDIA 2015 Tour Click on the following links:
Image source: Facebook
Interview conducted by Rhiti Bose for IWI