While Tamil book publishing continues to thrive, a crop of new enterprises in the city have pushed the envelope in nurturing an engaged reading public.
Panuval Book Store run by Mugundhan, Amutharasan and Saravanan, for instance, organises activities, apart from selling Tamil books from its shop in Thiruvanmiyur.
They conduct book readings, book-review sessions, film screenings and talks on a weekly basis, producing a growing collective of interested patrons. If you like reading books, check out this Book First.
Aganazhigai in Saidapet and Discovery Book Palace in K.K. Nagar are other Tamil book enterprises that organise similar programmes, bringing people together.
S.V. Senthilnathan, manager of Panuval Book Store, gushes, “On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, we have a great crowd of at least 100, including students, IT professionals, women and retired people, coming in. We also conducted a month-long social justice week to commemorate Ambedkar’s birthday.”
Publicised primarily through Facebook and word-of-mouth, it is a sustainable culture of dialogue and debate that the initiative hopes to inculcate.
Forty-two-year-old Pon. Vasudevan who runs Aganazhigai says, “People keep coming back to our shop. Even if they come to watch a movie or participate in a lecture, they meet other people and bring along friends who have not been here before.”
Mugundhan, one of the founders of Panuval, confesses it was the dearth of available spaces within the city to hold meetings like these that compelled them to start the project.
“Either you have to pay a hefty amount, or get a long list of permits before you can bring people together to have meaningful conversations on a broad range of issues. This was our way of filling that gap,” he says.
Vediyappan, owner of Discovery Book Palace, also points to the daunting economics of publishing in Tamil.
He says, “It takes several years to sell 500 to 1,000 copies of a Tamil book. In Kerala, as many as 10,000 copies are printed easily.”
He attributes this to a lack of strong reading culture instilled in children. He feels that only if schools and families insist their kids be exposed to diverse literature from a young age, things will change.
Writer, translator and social historian V. Geetha emphasises it is essentially a constituency of quality readers which the book centres seek to harness.
“While most booksstores stop at the occasional book launch, these efforts go much further and mobilise people,” she says.