The pandemic has not been an easy read, bookmarked by mutations, fear, insecurity, suspicion and compassion. Kerala, the most literate state in India, has turned to reading more with the help of bibliophiles who are turning a new page. Sushanth Nayak and friend Sijina Joseph from Kasaragod founded ‘dopamineR Books’, from where a book can be rented for a rupee a day. The ‘Valiyasala Brothers’, a group consisting of Vishnu SS, Aneesh SC, Gokul S and Vishnu G Nair, set up Aksharapura, a micro library in Thiruvananthapuram.
Sushanth explains, “I couldn’t afford to buy every book I wanted. Books by well-known authors are rather expensive. Many of us are in the same boat. Sure, we have a miscellaneous number of free PDF formats online but they can never replace the musty smell of old editions or the fresh smells of new pages.” Besides, libraries and book rental websites have conditions aplenty, including large security deposits.
Sushanth and Sijina’s literary mission is to ‘mine happiness’. “DopamineR Books is purely a not-for-profit startup. We operate via Instagram and our website. There are no security deposits or membership fees. Readers can place their orders that will be home-delivered if they live in Kannur or Kasaragod. Books are shipped to other districts. You can hold on to a book ordered via Instagram only for a day. Order through our website, you get to keep it for nine days,” says Sushanth, who has a team of people comprising Shammas, Prithwiraj M and Akash, working with him.
Aksharapura allows anyone to choose, read and return a book of choice to the shelf in 14 days, though it can be re-issued for the slow reader. The innovative library is inspired by the ‘Little Free Library’ in Bengaluru and Mizoram. Aksharapura became a hit in just a few days after it opened, and requires no membership. Seeing the official delay caused by the pandemic, the Thampanoor police station stepped in to set up the library on Kavilkadavu Road in Valiyasala.
Both are November babies. Sushanth’s approach is innovative. “We don’t have the funds to buy all the books, so we have a ‘Donate and Earn’ programme on our website to donate books and perhaps earn some pocket money. Around 70 percent of our books are sourced in this manner. We started with 25 books, and now we’ve 800,” he sounds proud. Shipping costs Rs 40-55 per kilo.
The MBA student is ecstatic at the growing community they have created. “People who weren’t keen on reading have hopped on the bandwagon,” says Sushanth. He is looking for volunteers. Aksharapura is growing too. Presently it can accommodate 50 books at a time. They are replaced with fresh volumes weekly. “Such libraries help in developing the sense of community among like-minded people who like to read. The majority of our readers are women, who do not get time to visit a public library,” said Vishnu, the club secretary. The bibliopreneurs plan to expand their editions to nearby localities soon.