Delivering Paperbacks To Book-Lovers Across Kolkata On A Scooter

Tarun Kumar
Tarun Kumar

Yellowed pages, the soft smell of must, the feel of words under your fingers. There’s something surreal about reading a book—not a screen, but a physical book. Even in the age of the Kindle, there are so many people that still long for the quiet, calming, wonderful experience of reading the hard copy of a book. Tarun Kumar Shaw knows this, and, for over three decades now, he has been delivering books to the doorsteps of Kolkata’s residents...on a bike.

On any day in Kolkata, you may see Shaw riding the city’s narrow streets on a two-wheeler, a box of books below his seat and a smile on his face. At 53, Shaw runs his business with his elder brother Utsav Kumar Shaw, to around 800 clients. Tracing the idea of the business back to his father, Tarun tells The Better India, “We had a shop called Dey and Brothers, in New Market. About 35 years ago it struck my father that instead of buyers coming to the shop to purchase books, we should start taking books to their doorsteps. He felt that people will continue reading books even after traditional bookstores become a thing of the past. He discussed the idea with some of his clients who loved it and encouraged him to take it forward.”

Tarun delivers all kinds of books, including banned ones - “I love challenges,” he told “Even when Satanic Verses was banned, I got several copies of the book. It took time, but I did it.”

The reason his business has flourished in Kolkata is not only because of the many, voracious readers it holds, but also because of the relationship Shaw shares with each of his clients. “I have known legendary editors such as MJ Akbar and Vir Sanghvi,” he says. “The latter especially was extremely generous and introduced me to some of the biggest business families who are now my clients. I enjoy a certain rapport with everyone and they trust me...” Media houses seem to adore him too, particularly the ABP Group, that publishes The Telegraph.

The Shaws only procure books on demand, and prefer to sell those written in English or Bengali, the primary languages they think the people of Kolkata like to read in.

Shaw understands that there will not be anyone to take his business forward - none of his family members are as interested in the business as he is - and accepts this, without any remorse, according to “The whole business worked on trust, familiarity. People see my face and I put my personal equity out there every day over the past 30 years. We hired a couple of people to deliver newspapers, magazines, but not the books. That is special. It had to be me delivering them to those who waited for them. And it ends with me.”

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