December 28, 2008

Granthayan, A Mobile Book Store

Stepping out of a bookstore recently I came upon a bright glow in the street as we made our way out of the shopping complex. On a closer look it turned out to be Granthayan, a mobile book store on wheels that launched in Bombay this August. Parked to the side of the road, three fans running, it was a winter welcome I couldn’t resist.

Unlike last year there is little chill this time around. Last year the chill lasted for over a month. Bombay usually sees little or no winter so it was a surprise last year to experience a drop in the mercury. Even then it rarely drops enough to force you back home early or think twice before setting off to the market for groceries. It is only in the early mornings and evenings that there’s a nip in the air.

Usually Bombay sees its winter last a little over a week when it gets cold enough to huddle under the blankets a wee bit longer in the mornings. So it was a surprise to find temperatures cooling considerably last year and it was a pleasure to step out and shiver a little when a stiff breeze blew your way.

I had hoped that this year too the winter would last like it did last year but there is little sign it will last beyond a week and even then the temperature hasn’t dropped by all that much. Actually it is pleasant in the evenings.

Monsoons and winters are two seasons made for reading if you’re stuck at home or wish to stay back the evening.

I haven’t lived in Bombay long enough to know if reading habits have changed over the last two decades. I believe they’ll have. I do see people read in the trains, mostly the local newspapers, and occasionally books. Unless you manage to get a seat in the train in the morning rush hour it is well neigh impossible to read anything at all but office goers have adopted novel methods to scan newspaper inches. Reading a book in the crowded local trains is no less difficult even though they’re handy to carry and read.

Entering the mobile book store I had the space to myself except for an elderly gentleman scanning the shelves for Marathi language books. Granthayan runs out of a modified TATA mini-truck. On the street outside sodium-vapour lamps lit up the roads.

At a computer terminal in a corner by the entrance Avinash Rane sits on a small stool, barcode scanner in hand. Behind him traffic zooms past, disappearing into the Christmas night. Occasionally a horn sounds, slicing the steady hum of fans whirring in the parked book store. There're hundreds of titles in the shelves awaiting discovery, titles new and old, some familiar, some not. Avinash rarely steps away from the computer terminal. Every once in a while his assistant, a silent youth in a blue t-shirt with Granthayan emblazoned in bold orange letters hands him books that customers selected for purchase. He quickly scans the books and prints out receipts before collecting payment. There's hardly a word uttered in all the time. It is as if they're answering to a purpose beyond selling books. It may well be so.

In Sanskrit, among the oldest and the most formidable of ancient Indian languages, Grantha is variously a book, a treatise, and a composition. Granthayan can be loosely understood to be a book movement of sorts, or may be a book journey.

Avinash tells me that they have ten such mobile book stores operational in Maharashtra State. “One is in Kudal at the moment, another is in Raigad. There is one in Vidharba as well. They drive to where they feel they’ve takers for the books.”

Kudal is in the Konkan to the West of Maharashtra, along the coast. Granthayan apparently aims to take the reading habit to far flung areas in the State of Maharashtra where book stores are not easily accessible, like villages and small towns for instance. For a moment I picture this initiative on wheels trundle along quiet country roads, drawing curious attention along the way as it stops from place to place. And dusty villages where village centres are typically a smattering of shops selling basic provisions while village folk gather under trees or on platforms around a Banyan or a Neem tree must present an interesting challenge in spreading the reading habit, more so if reading has been largely restricted to school textbooks.

Even as I think of rural scenes I smile to myself, warming to the idea. A bookstore on wheels is just what the doctor ordered.

Looking around I’m surprised at the number and variety of book titles stacked in neat rows on book shelves that line the three walls of the truck. A book rack in the middle partitions the space into two sections. The shelves are a mix of popular and business titles. The titles are most likely selected keeping in mind the localities they drive to, for I cannot imagine these titles finding many takers in say, Kudal.

“The Marathi books are costlier than the English ones,” the elderly browser I first saw on entering the back of the truck tells me, shaking his head at the thought.

“Maybe it is difficult for Marathi language book publishers to keep the costs down. There isn’t as much sales volume to Marathi books as there is for English books,” I offer as an explanation, unsure if that indeed is the reason. However in reality Marathi books are cheaper than the English titles. It is likely he was referring to certain Marathi titles.

“Of the remaining seven Granthayan mobile book stores, four are in Mumbai, of which one is doing rounds at Tilaknagar in Chembur. Outside of Mumbai there is one operational in Airoli, and one in Palgar,” Avinash remarks as I hand him a Gerald Durell title I’ve chosen to take home, Rosy Is My Relative. The blurb reads thus: What does a young man bequeathed Pounds Sterling 500 and an elephant with a taste for liquor do? Adrian Rookwhistle thought he had the answer - he'd give her to a circus. But it wasn't so easy. As Avinash makes a receipt for my purchase I notice a family of three passing by the truck pause by the open door on seeing book shelves reflected in bright tubelight.

There’s a ‘What on Earth is a book store doing in a truck on the side of a road this late at night’ look on their faces. A mobile book store is not a common sight on city roads. Curiosity gets the better of them and they take the short flight of retractable stairs up before venturing to the back of the truck, scanning book titles as they move along the shelves.

I ask Avinash if the venture is drawing enthusiastic response from the public.

“Yes, yes. It is,” he replies. “I’ve had many people asking me if I can bring the vehicle to where they stay. I told them that if their Housing Society permits me to bring the vehicle into their complex I will readily drive it over.”

Over five hundred books were sold the day I chanced upon the 'Books on Wheels' truck. I’m not sure if Avinash Rane sold the five hundred off his stock of books in the truck or if it was aggregated across all ten trucks. Whatever the case may be I thought five hundred is an encouraging number for a mobile book store aiming to bring books to your door.

Note: Granthayan operates a toll free number (1800-209-8074) that you can use to order books to be delivered free to your home anywhere in Maharashtra with payment to be made in cash on delivery. Only orders above Rs. 250/- are accepted for home delivery, the delivery taking between 1-10 days.

Series On Books People Read While Commuting

1. Books Travellers Read in Mumbai Locals – Part I
2. Books Travellers Read in Mumbai Locals – Part II
3. Books Travellers Read in Mumbai Locals – Part III


karen said...

Anil, this is so beautiful, I just loved reading it, especially being a very big book-lover myself! What a brilliant idea, a mobile bookshop... and so wonderfully described by you!

Anonymous said...

I'm familiar with mobile libraries or bookmobiles, but mobile bookstores are new to me - a great idea! Sounds like it is doing very well too,

CoyoteFe said...

Very nice profile. Have I said that you paint lovely word pictures?

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, I love mobile bookstores. I’ve seen them in England but not in the USA. They are such a good idea. How much fun to spot Jumpa Lahiri’s latest book there. The truck seems twice as large inside with all that literary treasure. Over 500 books sold in one day – what great news! Harsh weather does indeed encourage good reading. I'm curling up with a good book tomorrow if this freezing rain continues. Happy Reading!

kenju said...

What a wonderful idea! We have a similar thing here; they call them Bookmobiles, but they don't sell - they are libraries on wheels. They go to outlying areas where people have no libraries to choose from.

bobbie said...

What a great idea! Here we have Bookmobiles, which are sent out from the County Library, to lend books. I have never before heard of a mobile book store. This is a really interesting idea. Perhaps the curiosity will bring some to choose a book, who would not otherwise do so.

Anil P said...

Karen: Thank you :)

Yes, it's an idea whose time has come. So long as realty rates remain unaffordable it makes sense to operate out of the back of a truck.

Marja-leena: Even a mobile library is an excellent initiative. Yes, the mobile book store is doing well too. I just hope more and more people take to the reading habit.

CoyoteFe: Thank you for saying so :)

Sarah Laurence: I agree with you. Mobile bookstores have a charm of their own.

The fact that they may not be found at the same place two days in a row builds an anticipation of their arrival in 'your locality'. Similarly it might induce one to buy a book because tomorrow it will be gone some place else.

Yes, she's featuring in bookshops all over the city. Finding her book here was nice.

Either way (not sure if 500 was out of this one mobile book store or aggregated across all the ten mobile book stores) 500 books sold in a day is a very healthy figure indeed.

Happy reading.

Kenju: What a nice feeling it must be to have a bookmobile park in the neighbourhood, more if there isn't a bookshop or a library around.

Bobbie: You said it rightly, curiosity will certainly play a part in choosing a book from a mobile book store. It's interesting that Bookmobiles function as libraries. They must be following a set routine to allow for lending of books to happen.

Do Bookmobiles draw enthusiastic response in your country?

Granny J said...

Another of your wonderful portraits of life as it is lived in India. As ever, I quite enjoyed it.

Ugich Konitari said...

Anil, I have bought books from Granthayan, and I am so happy you were able to blog about this outstanding service to book lovers across the state. Such great pictures too. I am just wondering if the Granthali folks are connected to this ? I think so, but I may be wrong....

Anil P said...

Granny J: Thank you.

I just wonder where would we, as World Citizens, be if not for Web 2.0 delivering the power of publishing into our hands. It has helped connect stories that Mass Media would've given a go by.

Ugich Konitari: It's nice to know you've been to one of their mobile book stores as well. After seeing it and the potential it has in spreading the readin habit I thought I had to blog it.

It appears the 'Granthali' folks are different from the 'Granthayan' folks. Apparently Granthali started in 1974 as a reader's movement to publish Marathi works at affordable prices.

This write-up on Granthali that Frontline (a Hindu Group publication) ran makes for interesting reading on Granthali.

vicki archer said...

I wish you a very happy New Year and thank you for visiting French Essence, xv.

Anonymous said...

mobile book store a very novel idea indeed :)

Maria said...

Anil, what an interesting post! I never heard about mobile book stores, but it is a really good idea, I think!
Well, here in Austria, in Vienna, which is situated in the Northeast of Austria in the flat land, we had no snow so far this winter, but in the west and south of our country there is a great lot of snow... It was very warm untilnow in Vienna, around +5 to +10°C, but now it begins to get frosty and I do hope that we will have some snow soon.
I thank you very much for your visit and I wish you a Happy New Year!

Lakshmi said...

Im a complete book worm...have seen these libraries..a great concept :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post and letting us know :)

Anonymous said...

This was quite a lovely landscape in words. I used to see book-mobiles here in the U.S. but now that I think of it, it's been a long time since I've seen one. Perhaps gas prices? Have a healthy, happy New Year!

Elizabeth said...

This is so interesting and an excellent idea - to bring books to those who might not otherwise get to shop for them.
Greetings from New York.

Anonymous said...

interesting concept! havent heard of it before... i suppose then too, my island is pretty small and we do not really need a bookstore?

nice update on your town, as usual!

Lori ann said...

What a great post Anil! I wish that we had such a thing here. The Mexican community has always had trucks with food and everyhousehold necessity,here in our town,but I think books would be hugely popular.
Twice a year the elementary schools bring a "BookMobile" to the campus's for only a couple days, only books for children though.
I like the book by Osho!
xx Lori

Anil P said...

Vicki Archer: Thank you.

TGW Zillion Namesakes: Yes, it is.

Maria: I quite agree. A mobile book shop that rolls from neighbourhood to neighbourhood will surely elicit reader response.

Even the +5 to +10 degree centigrade you face is cold. Back here in Bombay the mercury does not get down that low.

Wish you all the best for the new year.

Lakshmi: Yes, it is.

Smita: Thank you. You're welcome.

June: Thank you. I do hope gas prices will not affect the book stores on wheels.

Elizabeth: It helps to have books 'traveling' to places where readers may not have easy access to books. I do hope all countries have this as a service in tandem with book publishers.

Bluehues: Thank you. Even if it is a small island imagine the anticipation of a mobile book store driving into the neighbourhood :)

Lori Ann: I'm sure all it would take is a book loving entreprener to take this up in the community where you live, one section of the truck for food and the other for books :)

My gut feeling is though it might take time to break even to begin with, in the long run it should work well once it begins to convert the community into book readers.

Anonymous said...

It is a nice idea with the mobile bookstores. We actually have a few mobile public libraries here in Norway. They drive out to qujite remote places.

Christmas is a perfect reading time for me :-)

Unknown said...

A novel idea beautifully presented by you Anil.

Hoping you have a wonderful & eventful 2009!

All the best!

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating glimpse into your life, and you really tell it well. Thanks for sharing!

Kunal Bhatia said...

i had no idea that these mobile libraries exist in our city! i'd imagine them to be operating in semi urban areas, where the conventional libraries are missing; but i guess nothing beats a library that drives into your premises, eh?
also, loved the text that accompanies all the visuals (or do the visuals accompany the text ?).

i read your comment on my personal blog. apart from there, i also photo blog at


megha puNAter" said...

wow,what a find and what lovely way to write about it.thank you for sharing.happy new year anil :)

Anil P said...

Britt-Arnhild: Yes, it is. Remote places is one good reason for mobile book stores to exist, helping take the reading habit to far corners.

Random Thoughts: Thank you. Wish you a wonderful and eventful 2009.

Phil: Thank you.

Kunal Bhatia: The mobile book store Granthayan only started this August.

It's more of a book store than a mobile library. It is good to find a mobile book store or library on one's door step. It's better than having to find a book store to go to.

Thanks. Maybe both ways depending upon the reader inclination :)

I saw the other link as well.

Megha Punater: Thank you, Megha. It's a pleasure to share city travel stories. Wish you a happy new year too :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, happy new year!

Unknown said...

Happy New Year to you and your family

Skybridge Studios said...

This, in an obscure way, reminds me of the Christopher Morley book: Parnassus On Wheels......

A great idea for those not able to get around or make it to a store.

My best to you! Cheers!

Merisi said...

What an interesting novel way to bring books to the prospective readership!

Thank you for sharing your stories with us during the past year and best wishes for a Happy New Year,

Ravi Kumar said...

Awesome ANil. This novel way of selling books. World is getting better by the day :)

Coffee Messiah said...

Sorry, the skybridge comment was me. I'm helping my partner with a co-operative mailart blog and forgot to sign out.

Cheers! CM

Lucy said...

I love the way you take the opportunity to talk to the people behind these things you see and experience. Wonderful virtual travel with you as ever!

Happy New Year, Anil, to you and yours.

please sir said...

That is such a cool idea! Wow - would love to stumble across that one!

heidi said...

what an awesome service!!!! Thanks for sharing... -h

The Littons said...

A fantastic idea. I hope it continues to be successful.


Lovely post of a lovely service - I always prefer home delivery. :)
Wish you a very happy and peaceful 2009.

Elizabeth said...

Dear Anil,
Happy New Year
Sarah Laurence recommended your blog as a good introduction to India.
My husband and I are planning our first visit to India in the spring so I will enjoy reading all your posts.
Best wishes from New York.

mountainear said...

My idea of bliss - a mobile bookstore. We do have a fairly local mobile library which is nearly as good.

I see computerised 'readers' are coming onto the market - I wonder if reading a novel on screen will ever take the place of reading a book. Great concept but something will be lacking I think.

Amber Star said...

When I was a girl a long time ago there was a bookmobile that came to a local shopping center once a week during the summer. There were many books to check out and keep until they returned. Through the books on travel I learned much about the world and the people living in it. It is a good thing the traveling bookstore is going to villages, too. Maybe, it will open someone's mind to the world like it did mine.

Anil P said...

Sarah Laurence: Thank you, Sarah. Wish you the same.

Shillu: Thank you. Wish you a happy new year.

Skybridge Studios: I haven't read the book. Yes, convenience matters some times. Thank you.

Merisi: Yes, Granthayan deserves kudos for making the attempt. I hope they succeed.

Wish you a happy new year, and it's been a pleasure to have you read my India posts. Thank you.

Ravi Kumar: Thanks, Ravi. I hope it keeps getting better.

Coffee Messiah: Mailart, hmmm. I'll look forward to the entries.

Lucy: Thank you, Lucy. It's a pleasure to have you travel alongside even if virtually.

Wish you a happy new year.

Please Sir: It's an useful service. If nothing else than the convenience the book service provides will hopefully get more people into reading books.

Heidi: Thank you.

Simon: I hope so too.

Raji Muthukrishnan: Thank you. Wish you a happy new year.

Elizabeth: This is such a pleasure. Sarah's writing reflects a wonderful sense of place to her travel narratives. Thanks to Sarah for pointing you my place.

I hope the planning for your India trip will be as interesting as the trip itself. You're most welcome to my India narratives, and hopefully they'll convey a certain sense of place, and essence to the inevitable contradictions that is India.

Thank you for your wishes, and if there were anything I could help with your trip do let me know.

Wish you all the best with your trip.

Mountainear: Digital reading will never communicate the feel of a book as effectively as paper unless maybe a generation grew up with digital reading without ever having experienced a conventional book.

I believe that if anyone who's experienced a book once will only desert it for digital reading if the title is not available in book form.

Amber Star: Thanks for sharing a wonderful memory.

I could imagine how it must have been to anticipate the arrival of the bookmobile, the waiting every bit a thrill as the actual arrival, turning to relief on being issued a new title.

I agree with you. A bookstore traveling to villages will enable many to share the experiences of others in the narratives which they might not otherwise.

Avid Reader said...

what a fascinating post--I've linked it to my reading blog. I've seen mobile libraries in ireland, but never a bookshop. Great idea.

tut-tut said...

Yes, as Britt Arnhild has seen, I've been a patron of the mobile library when I lived in a much more rural area than I do now.

A mobile bookstore is a good idea, as might other mobile ventures.

Squirrel said...

There is a Beatmobile selling beat poet books and Kerouac. But it just visits festivals and colleges. It's funded by donation, and I'm sure this summer's gas prices made it park someplace for awhile!

I'd love to drive the book bus!

Anonymous said...

For those of us who grew up in Bangalore in the 80s, the big blue Mobile Library owned by the City Central Library gave our weekly dose of books. And they were cheap. The Mobile Library is still in active service. But they have not grown with the city.

Anil P said...

Avid Reader: Thank you. A mobile bookshop has its advantages. I hope this catches on and we get to see more of mobile bookshops around towns across the world.

Tut-tut: The anticipation, the waiting for the mobile bookstore to drive over to where one lives should make for a happy reading experience.

Squirrel: I hope gas prices do not affect the Beatmobile. Jack Kerouac's On The Road is among my favourites.

Who wouldn't want to be behind the wheels as they turn into a locality where folks are eagerly awaiting its arrival? :)

Which main? What cross?: This is interesting. I hadn't heard of the Blue Mobile library that you mention. Hopefully they'll survive and grow.

Aakanksha Singh said...

heya, i loved this post.Quite interesting to know that mobile bookstores exist in mumbai. Being a complete book lover, i found this post informative. What i wanted to know was do they really home deliver in any part of Mumbai and Maharashtra?

huckleberry finn said...

For those of us who grew up in Bangalore in the 80s, the big blue Mobile Library owned by the City Central Library gave our weekly dose of books.I believe that if anyone who's experienced a book once will only desert it for digital reading if the title is not available in book form.