Tarun Kumar Shaw’s mobile is ringing more than usual since the Covid-19 outbreak has forced Kolkata to remain indoors, compelling many to seek solace in books.
For over three decades, Shaw has been the go-to-guy in the city to get a rare tome, a banned title, an overseas magazine or the latest edition of a prestigious journal, especially when all other sources exhaust.
This man from central Kolkata was already in the business of home-delivering books on order much before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos came up with his billion-dollar idea 25 years ago.
Even after the entry of e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart, the city’s many prominent citizens to common bibliophiles continue to dial the number of Tarun da, as he is endearingly called, to source their books, more so when it’s hard to get.
Shaw has this reputation of delivering books during difficult situations on his two-wheeler. Even amid curfew in Kolkata after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, he had managed to deliver a foreign magazine to Sagarmoy Ghosh, the then editor of Bengali literary magazine Desh, and also books to some of his other clients.
This commitment to deliver a book to its reader earned him the sobriquet — the book man of Kolkata. “I have hardly ever disappointed anyone who called me for a book,” Shaw, 54, told The Federal, proudly.
That is before the Covid-19 hit the city. Now, for the first time in 35 years of his running what is possibly the one-of-its kind personal book delivery service, the ‘book man’ is not taking any order.
He cites two reasons for suspending business. First of all, due to the Covid-19 scare, he prefers to stay safe indoors, adhering to the government’s health advisories. Secondly, due to this global lockdown, no new books are being published.
“I procure books mostly on demand. My USP all these years has been my ability to get rare books and journals within days, or even hours. But in this coronavirus-infested world, it’s impossible to get anything from outside,” he quipped.
Other e-commerce services too are not delivering books.
In a bid to ensure readers do not miss the physical feel of books, city-based publishing house Seagull Book and Oxford Bookstore have lined up a range of digital activities to fill the gap.
— Seagull Books سیگل (@seagullbooks) April 7, 2020
“Free downloads — to read on any device — in the time of isolation. To help you stay home and stay safe Seagull Books offers you a free book a day, every day, from its library of world literature. Here are the first seven,” reads a tweet from the official Twitter handle of Seagull Books.
The Oxford Bookstore has launched book reading sessions on Facebook Live and is also hosting online workshops on varied subjects ranging from storytelling to dance. It has also started a series called “author recommends” where eminent personalities list their top picks for readers. The initiative would continue till the lockdown is lifted, an official of the bookstore said.
Earlier this week, a library in the city’s New Town area opened its online section for book lovers from around the world to download their collection for free, drawing good response from readers.
Now, with even Tarun da not taking orders, it’s perhaps time for the bookworms to go digital, at least until it’s safe to step out.