India: For the love of second-hand books

Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India – The complete 32-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica lay strewn over the book counter at Dhananjay Pandey’s stall at the Vijayawada Book Festival. Pandey, owner of the Pratik Book Centre in Mumbai, notes that the printing of this enormous collection was suspended in 2010. One can get a digital version these days.

As customers browse through his collection, he proudly shows off a set of The Book of Knowledge: Children’s Encyclopedia, printed 100 years ago – the cover discoloured with age, but its pages in good state; a set of huge, hardbound foreign hobby books for children’s items to be made by classy moms – also a few decades old and not available any more; huge atlases, books on history, numerous yellow-paged worm-infected classics and novels.

Most are price-tagged at 50 percent below their retail value, and the aged novels are available for 100 rupees, or less than $2 each. 

In the absence of a decent library in the city, book lovers in Vijayawada, the present capital of the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, look forward to their favourite annual fixture: the Vijayawada Book Festival which begins on January 1 every year. The festival runs for 11 days and is dotted with discussions, seminars, book releases, cultural programmes, competitions for children, walks-for-books and more.

This year, there are 328 stalls and most of the big players in the south Indian publishing scene are participating in the event.

“I started selling second-hand books some 17 years back, and I have been coming to this festival for the last seven years. Every year I see good business. Enticed by my rare collections, many book lovers here have come to know me, and they seek me out and visit my stall during this festival,” says Pandey, who has travelled to the fair from Mumbai.

However, publishers and stall owners say that this year the stalls are much smaller, offering less variety – due to the effect of the recent demonetisation policy which has resulted in financial hardships for many in India, as well as the unavailability of skilled salespersons to cater to book lovers.


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