As an affiliate-driven website, Icy Tales earns from qualifying purchases.
Walking BookFairs is the brainchild of Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Bahibala, who chose to make a habit of reading books accessible to everyone. Their initiative has not only facilitated the accessibility of books for people but also has set out a strong message of emphasizing the importance of reading.
Walking BookFairs is an independent bookstore in India established in 2014. Their bookstores are in Bhubaneswar and Bangalore. They are also India’s only traveling bookstore and have traveled more than 35,000 km across the country, reaching books to thousands of readers.
With Walking BookFairs, Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Bahibala aim to take books to the remote corners of India. They are trying to make books available to as many people as possible. They believe a progressive society is possible when people have access to books that help them garner knowledge and experiences.
Satabdi Mishra: It all started in 2014 in the villages of Koraput district of Odisha, India, when Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Bahibala, the founders of WBF, filled their backpacks with books and walked from village to village to display books on the footpath, at bus stops, under trees, in public spaces for people of rural areas to have access to books, literally birthing the Walking BookFairs. The idea — is to make books accessible for ALL and to spread the love of reading around.
Q. What difference do you see between the present and previous generations regarding reading?
Satabdi Mishra: We still see a considerable gap when it comes to reading. Millions of people from all generations have no access to books because of various systemic factors, including poverty and the caste system. A small section of the Indian society only has access to books.
In rural areas and urban areas, some children have never seen storybooks. Let alone buy one or read one. Only people from the well-to-do privileged sections of society have had some access to books in the larger context. But having failed to engage their children or grandchildren in reading (again due to various factors), the newer generation has lost touch with reading.
Q. Do you feel the indulgence in electronic media on an everyday basis has impacted the reading habit among children?
Satabdi Mishra: The growing consumerist nature of our society, where parents want returns from their children’s education in terms of degrees, jobs, cars, houses, etc., is what has impacted the reading habit more. Our education system is not designed to encourage free-thinking and asking questions — two core values that reading inculcates. Therefore reading for pleasure has yet to find a place in our society.
Q. How did the pandemic impact you and your endeavor?
Satabdi Mishra: The pandemic and lockdowns have affected numerous small businesses worldwide, including our bookstore. Since bookstores are not considered essential, we were forced to shut down entirely for months during the lockdowns and have suffered heavy losses. Our Bangalore bookstore had to close down. We had to move to a different location and are glad that we could reopen again.
Q. According to you, what makes reading more accessible and more fun?
Satabdi Mishra: Reading is essential for all of us. Old or young, poor or rich, man or woman. Reading is not just fun; it is also empowering and fundamental to living a fuller life.
Q. Do you think the perception and analytical skills of the younger generation are stunted due to a lack of reading?
Satabdi Mishra: Reading fiction is essential. Reading diverse literature is essential. It teaches us so many invaluable things about life, ourselves, and the world. Yes, when we don’t read beyond our course curriculum, we put a limit on our learning. The more you read, the more you know.
Q. How difficult is it to see the shift from physical copies to e-copies?
Satabdi Mishra: As a physical brick-and-mortar bookstore, we sell physical books. Our readers are all people who want to read physical books. E-books cannot replace physical books. They can only be a matter of convenience for some.
Q. Everyone has their own success story. Would you like to share yours with us?
Satabdi Mishra: For the above two questions — We do not believe in setting benchmarks or success per se. We take every day as it comes, and every day brings new challenges. For us, two people who walked around villages carrying books in boxes and backpacks in a remote corner of India because we wanted more people to read books has not changed. We still want more people to read more books.
Taking books to thousands of people around 20 states of India, Read More India 2015-16, to India’s first-ever poetry library Poems on the Road 2018-19 to running India’s only solar-powered bookstore, to independently publishing diverse and fierce voices from India 100 Poems Are Not Enough (poetry anthology) to Room No. 312 & Other Stories — the first book in South Asia NOT being sold on Amazon, Walking BookFairs is all about subverting and doing things in a new way.
This year we launched India’s first electric bookmobile.
Q. What advice do you have for the present and younger generations regarding reading?
Satabdi Mishra: Read more books; books are for everybody.
One of the most incredible heritage that can be passed down is the heritage of wisdom, and what can be a better way to do that than by making books accessible to any learner. As Satabdi rightly said, books are for everybody. Walking BookFairs as an initiative does live up to the quote in words and spirit. It is firmly believed that no problem has not been already talked about in a book over the years of human race development. All one needs to do is read to broaden their horizon of knowledge. It is inspiring to see them positively emphasizing the importance of reading in our everyday lives. The idea to do things in a new way makes Walking Bookfairs a unique initiative in its way.