For a city with a cosmopolitan population and a sizable English-speaking crowd, Coimbatore still does not have an avenue for English language book lovers to splurge their earnings on. The few book shops that are present in the city mostly cater to academic and self-help or motivational books while works of even internationally best-selling authors like Ian Mcewan or Philip Roth, even a V.S. Naipaul work, is hard to find on the shelves of city book shop.
Despite the presence of around 200 educational institutions and a huge college going crowd, good English books (both fiction and non-fiction) have not yet found a market here. The poor turnout at the annual Book Exhibition conducted by Rotary Club that is underway at the Suguna Hall on Avinashi Road is a good indicator of that trend.
“On a week day, we get hardly 25 to 30 visitors most of whom are just window shoppers and not serious buyers,” says the proprieter of a book shop here who has set up a stall at the exhibition. “Even in smaller towns like Erode or Trichy, we receive more response during book fairs and we don’t know why,” he says.
The coordinators of the event claim that they gave priority to English book sellers at the exhibition mainly due to the absence of good book shops in the city.
Book sellers here point out that the reason for the absence of recent best sellers is that they are unable to sell fiction and non-fiction easily. “We hardly get one or two customers who come looking for a specific author. Most of our clients are parents looking for children’s books or college students looking for reference material,” says a book retailer at Town Hall.
Members of the Coimbatore Book Club claim that there are a good number of book collectors and readers. “But, we really don’t know why a major book shop has clicked here,” says Rajesh Govindarajulu, a member of the club. “Two major book retailers who set shop here have closed their business and moved on.”
Rajesh points out that although there are no major bookshops, most book lovers in Coimbatore travel frequently and pick up their favourite authors from various destinations. “Besides, we have Flipkart, Amazon and so many other sources to get our books,” he says.
But for any avid bibliophile who enjoys the mere act of going to a book shop and picking a fresh copy of his favourite author’s work, the destination still seems to be hundreds of kilometers away.
Old books market is a treasure trove of classics
While there are hardly any shops to find good English books in the city, if one is satisfied with buying a used book, the long stretch of used book shops at Ukkadam and Town Hall in the city might just be the destination.
From the latest competitive exam sample question paper sets to scholarly works or Spectroscopy to the award winning novel White Tiger by Arvind Adiga, the 50-odd used book sellers in old book market could fish out a copy of the book in a matter of seconds.
“We have customers coming from as far as Ernakulam in Kerala to Trichy down south. Most of our customers book in advance and come and purchase the books in bulk,” says Sheikh Abdullah (27), who has been running an old books shop in Town Hall for the last 10 years.
Sheikh points out that on an average he sells around 25 to 30 books every day. “It is slightly higher on weekends but we get clients every day. While most of the books we sell are reference material for college students, a sizable number of novels and good non-fiction books are also available with us,” he says.
While Naipul and John Mcphee are unfamiliar names in new book outlets, the old book sellers here can even suggest similar works with ease if they are not able to find the author that their clients are looking for. “The advantage we have is that we sell a reasonably good copy for almost half the price and after reading it, you can always give it back to us. We will buy it back for a lesser cost and put it back on the stands,” says another old book retailer at Town Hall.
Old book market vendors point out that the old books market in Coimbatore sells more books than even in bigger cities like Chennai. “Often, we go to Chennai and other major cities to bring their books to sell it here. Since Coimbatore is a central hub and we are located near the bus stand, a lot of outstation crowd pick up their books from the market here,” says Sheikh.
Tamil books find a patronage in city, thanks to efforts of septuagenarian bibliophile
In a city where even major book retailers have bundled out after testing waters for a while, 72-year-old Velayutham of Vijaya Pathippakam is a rarity. Sitting behind a modest looking cash counter in Raja Street, Velayutham oversees the three-storied plush book store dedicated only for Tamil fiction and non-fiction books that sells hundreds of books on a daily basis.
Velayutham came to Coimbatore at the age of 17 in 1957 and began life working in a general merchant store in the city. “Soon I could set up my own grocery shop near here and in that shop, I opened a little counter for good literary fiction and non-fiction out of my love for books,” he says.
The sales output from the tiny corner of his general merchant store picked up so fast that he decided to give up the grocery business and start a full-fledged book shop. “Vijaya Pathippakam was born in 1977 in that manner. At that time, there was general perception that one cannot sustain in the business without selling academic books. But, I did not want to sell academic material and have now grown my business to this extent without selling any academic books,” he says with pride.
While finding good English books are difficult in the city, Vijaya Pathipakkam has stocked its shelves with Tamil translations of all major international works besides contemporary Tamil fiction and non-fiction. “Almost all major writers including Jayakanthan, Vairamuthu and film makers such has Bharathiraja and Balachander have come to my shop. We were the first company to have a ‘Readers Festival’ way back in 1979,” Velayutham says.
Today, Vijaya Pathippakam has sold crores of books to Tamil lovers across the world besides printing and publishing over 500 titles. “I think I have done my job in promoting Tamil literature. Now, I hope that another book shop comes up like mine and gives more avenues for readers to buy their favourite books,” the septuagenarian says.