From deep within suburban SN Banerjee Road comes the friend of Kolkata’s bibliophiles. Way before Flipkart’s adorable advertisement with the mouse delivering books to your home hit the TV screens, Kolkatans were getting their books delivered to the comfort of their home, courtesy one Tarun Kumar Shaw.
Shaw has been doing this for more than three decades now. But the idea first hit his father Gopal Lal Shaw, who worked in a book store in the New Market area back then. “My dad floated the prospect of getting books home delivered to some of his store’s customers. Quite expectedly, they were thrilled. That led him to quit the job and bring the book selection experience to a customer’s house,” says Shaw.
Shaw joined his father in this venture once he completed his graduation. Initially he used to accompany Gopal Lal wherever he went but once he felt he had learnt all that he needed to, they decided to operate in different halves of the city.
Shaw goes to people’s houses on his trusted scooter. “So I have a limited carrying capacity — 20-30 books. I, therefore, like to initially visit the client and spend some time with them to find out their areas of interest. Over a short conversation, I can manage to figure out where their interest lies — psychology, literature or sociology, and so on. On my next visit, I take an array of books on that topic for them to choose from,” he explains. This way, Shaw manages to provide just the right number of choices to the client while saving them the hassle of travelling to a book store and scanning through tons of books.
He also provides international newspapers like the New York Times and London Times and niche magazines like the World Soccer Magazine. He prides himself in being able to dig up rare books that are requested by clients, including banned books like The Satanic Verses. He charges a small price for his efforts along with the book’s printed price. “The challenge of getting rare books makes me feel alive,” he says.
His son, who is settled in Singapore, helps him in corresponding with international sellers for these rare gems.
One client that he is still in awe of, is Rituparno Ghosh. “I have never met a more avid reader than the late filmmaker,” he says. He also takes pride in having brought books to quench the thirst of reading in people like famous Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay and movie director Pratim Dasgupta. “I love to see the passion for books in people like another client of mine, Partho Chatterjee. Chatterjee cared about books more than clothes and money and he would crave for new books that he would read and repack before placing them in his cabinet,” he recalls.
Tarun-da, as people in Kolkata know him, believes that the age of technology has hampered the city’s love for reading a bit. “But in the recent years, I have noticed people choosing books over e-books. They are slowly falling in love with the feel and smell of a new book once more and this warms my heart.”
He often visits the offices of major media houses and puts books on display in the office area. The employees, including their manager, gather around, out of interest. “This experience along with just chatting at a client’s house with the family members, is something I really cherish,” he says, emphasising that with each exchange, he learns something new.