In Conversation with a Neighbourhood Hero

Have you ever wondered how mysterious the game of life is? How something nice happens to you out of nowhere making you feel all charged up and excited. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As I walked through the Church Street of Bengaluru hunting for food, my legs stopped involuntarily in front of this beautiful place. It had a long inviting rack of books put up on display, a sight too tempting to not yield to especially if you are a BookStalkist. The name on the board  read “Bookworm”.

bookworm board

Every time I enter a bookstore, like every other bibliophile I tend to get lost in the world of books. But this time there was a question running on my mind and I set out to find the answer to it. Although I had been to the Church Street a few months ago during an earlier visit to the city, I had not seen this place here.  I had to find out how I had not noticed this place earlier. I can already hear long time Bangaloreans gasping in wonder how naive I must be to not know the Bookworm in Bengaluru. Forgive me, for I am new in the city. I walked up to this lovely lady at the sales counter to find the answer. There began one of the finest and most inspiring conversations of my life.

BookStalkist:  Is this a new store here? I ask because I was here early this year but I don’t remember seeing this place?

Mrs. Uma (as I learned later): (Smiles). Yeah, this is a new store here in Church Street. We opened it here in March, 2016, but we only relocated from Brigade Road. We have been here for 16 years though. Our first store is till operational in M.G. Road.

BookStalkist: Did you say 16 years?

Mrs. Uma: (Smiles again). Yes, 16 years and it was started by Mr. Krishna. In fact he had started much earlier than the store in M.G. Road. He started with a bookstore in the pavements.

That is when I asked her if we can get to meet Mr. Krishna and she called out for someone who was talking to customers over books.

bookworm 2

BookStalkist(this time to Mr. Krishna): Did the Bookworm start from a pavement bookstore?

Mr. Krishna: Yeah, I started my own bookstore in 2000 in the pavement. But I had been working in a pavement bookstore even before that. I was from Mysore and I came to Bangalore as a student. I was pursuing a graduate course in Commerce in Vijaya evening college from 1997 to 2000. During the same period I worked in a pavement bookstore for all 3 years. After graduation, I decided to start my own bookstore.

BookStalkist: Why a bookstore? Did you not want to find a regular paying job after graduation?

Mr. Krishna: I did have the chance to have a regular job. Even my friends wanted to get me a better job. But I chose to have a bookstore because in the three years I spent working at a bookstore, I learnt that I enjoyed my conversations with my customers who came to buy books. So apart from my own passion for reading, I found something which I enjoyed doing. That’s how the Bookworm began.

I must mention here that these conversations are a specialty of the Bookworm. As you walk through the store, you will see Mr. Krishna walking over to people talking to them. He talks to his customers about the books they are looking for, their choice of authors, genres, and reviews of the new arrivals, recommendations based on their liking and a lot more. Those are heartwarming conversations over books which is an impossibility in an online bookstore and a rarity in other book stores.

Mr. Krishna: During my conversations with customers I learnt that some of my customers were authors too. Some of them very well-known and established authors. We have been able to sell more copies for them with our personalized recommendations to customers since we know our customer’s choices. We also get honest feedback on the books we sell. That way this has become a much better place than just being a bookstore for all of us.

BookStalkist (to Mrs. Uma): Did you also have a passion for reading?

If you haven’t caught up yet, this lovely lady is the wife of Mr. Krishna.

Mrs.Uma: Not until I married him. But now I read and I read a lot. I keep a book with me here and I read when I find free time. It is important for us to read to be able to help our customers with recommendations.

BookStalkist (to Mr. Krishna): Do you remember how much you earned in your first job in the bookstore?

Mr. Krishna: I used to get  ₹1500 per month.

BookStalkist: Do you see a threat to the Bookworm thanks to the online bookstores?

Mr.Krishna: In the early years of online bookstores, we have had customers who used to compare the prices before buying it from us. But now that has stopped to a greater extent now. Our customers know us and we continue to serve customers who enjoy the experience of a bookstore. So I do not see a threat to the bookstores at least for the next 20 years. But e-readers are a completely different ball game and it is difficult to predict at the moment how this will turn out for all of us. Only time can decide who shall persist and who shall perish.

BookStalkist: I see you sell new books and used ones too? Do you also buy back books from your customers?

Mr. Krishna: We do buy back all the books that are bought from Bookworm. We maintain a Store Credit for each of our customers. The second-hand books are usually sold at half the rate of the original price of the book, 50 % of which is credited to customers Store credit. The customers can use this credit to buy other books. This is very beneficial for fiction readers who would want to sell the books after reading them.
We also take advance booking for new releases. We get signed copies and special editions for customers based on their requests. We also help customers who look for rare books. We have now more requests for Bengali, Tamil and Telugu books. So we will be adding them.

Bookworm 1

BookStalkist: Do you plan to open new branches or expand more ?

Mr. Krishna: Not at the moment. We are still trying to stock up this new store to its full capacity. Apart from the bookstore we also have an air-conditioned hall which is now being used for literary events. We would love to let this hall for free for literary and bookish events. We want this space to be available for literary activities to encourage and inculcate the passion for books in people. However there is some maintenance cost to it. So we charge a minimal amount for such events.

I knew he meant every word .The charge he quoted was indeed much reasonable and cheaper when I look at the rentals of various places in Bangalore. And there are a lot of literary events lined up including one that of Ashwin Sanghi in the coming weeks.

BookStalkist: Do you now find time to read?

Mr.Krishna: Our days are occupied, so there is less time to read. Over time the genres that I read have also changed. So I try to squeeze in time to read.

BookStalkist: Do you work all year round? Do you get to take vacations?

Here Mrs. Uma intervenes.

Mrs. Uma: Not really. We are open throughout the year. We get hardly 3 to 4 days off in a year. We have no weekends.

Now that should explain why the Bookworm is so successful.

This is the man who shares spaces with great writers and renowned publishers. But he took time for two strangers who picked up a conversation with him and answered every question we had with utmost patience while dutifully attending to his customers as well. Mr.Krishna did not only come across as a book seller who walks those extra miles for his customers, but also as an admirable human being. During my hour-long conversation with him, I was completely in awe with his humility and kind demeanor. As for me the best learning I received at the end of the conversation was how important it is to stay humble and grounded even when you have proved yourself successful for 16 years.

bookworm final

As for my readers if you are in Bangalore or if you plan to visit Bangalore I suggest you take time to visit them and indulge in some bookish conversation.

Photos : Abhishek Kumar Jha

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