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A twist in the story

Christopher E. Walton of Everyman Secon-hand Bookstore  

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Two book stores in Fort Kochi carry the old world charm of the area, in their way of presentation and retail

Housed in a 200-year-old building Everyman’s Second Hand bookstore on Princess Street in Fort Kochi is the front room of Walton’s Homestay. Proprietor Christopher E. Walton calls it Everyman’s, based on the eponymous Everyman’s publications, a place where he likes to sell his ideas and philosophy along with books. Before he began his homestay and book store in 2002 he worked with APL Ltd.(American President Lines) and did a stint with a law firm. Christopher who reads widely, texts from all religions, practises interfaith and preaches thus. His Sunday school sermons are popular for his novel views. A visit to the bookshop comes with a philosophic takeaway, from him. “I need to give more than I take from society,” he says on his special retail style. Everyman’s is quaint in every sense of the word. There is no sign post to mark the shop and no book marks to advertise the store. Books are placed neatly on shelves labelled Trade and Sale. The ones under Trade are for exchange. Readers are encouraged to replace a selected book by leaving a read one. The ones under Sale are books carefully ferreted by Walton from bookstores in the city and are sold at marked down prices. His reasons for opening a second hand book shop is, “a book lover is at ease with books just out from the printing office, it gives one a good feeling, but a second hand book shop is something different; used books have a different feel, it’s friendlier and one finds precious gems for little cost.”

His personal shelf of books is mainly one with coffee table books and precious old editions, available for research. Information on each book, its date of purchase, and its little history of coming to the hands of the owner are written down carefully in a well-maintained register. Any historical query on Fort Kochi, which many travellers make, is immediately attended to by the diligent proprietor after perusing the books from this shelf.

“My friends in life are my books and hence I have great minds for company. My personal books are not for sale, but are available for research. If you lend a book you either lose the book or the friend,” he says offering his experienced wisdom.

A Indian Idiom

In the early nineties, a pushcart selling books on the sands of Fort Kochi beach made heads turn. The curiosity it generated led to a desired impact and hence good sales. Idiom Booksellers that began thus made a place for itself in the minds and later hearts of people. Today, the well-established nook for books draws readers in droves. Its eclectic inventory on India, Indian culture, art and related themes has made it a one-stop shop for travellers looking for works on the country. Besides that it has evolved to stack shelves of recently published popular books, less of thrillers and more of serious literature- classics, fiction, non –fiction, self-help books and on history. Shyam Kumar M. Shetty, the soft spoken proprietor took over the business from his English friend Michael J. Watt who began the store with his personal collection of books in 1995. Michael would often visit Kochi on work related with the British Council. He also had friends in Palakkad. The pushcart trailer idea was Shyam’s after which Idiom Booksellers opened its first outlet in Jew Town in Mattancherry. Among its well wishers was Manjoo Menon, a well known scholarly gentleman who began The Delta Study School in the city in the late 50s. Being the bibliophile Manjoo would work at the bookstore, enjoying the smell and feel of books and chatting with keen readers who would come in search of tomes on India. Shyam was a student then and too would pitch in and run the store during Michael’s absence. After he took over he has carried on with the core values of the bookstore. Idiom revels and nurtures its Indianness. Handmade paper wrappers, calendars with Indian art-miniatures and Madhubani artwork, bookmarks with Indian motifs and jute carry bags with Indian stencils make for its ingenious branding. The retail scene has changed drastically, finds Shyam, as most of his clients are now Kindle and e-books equipped globetrotters.

Sales have come down, he rues. Earlier he freighted books to different parts of the world but as postage of books is by weight, Rs.50 for a kilo, it’s become expensive. The Lonely Planet remains the most popular book amongst his customers. The God Of Small Things continues to top the popularity charts since 1996. “Also because Ayemenem is in Kerala,” he says. The White Tiger, Shantaram, The Moor’s Last Sigh and most of William Dalrymple’s books are popular. Books on Indian cookery, translations of Indian bestsellers and the Indian mythological tales series- Amar Chitra Katha do well. Coffee Table books are no longer as popular as before, adds Shyam. With changing customer profile and competition he is expanding his inventory and now stocks translations of Indian bestsellers in German, French, Spanish and Dutch. Seventy-two sets of the Puranas, books on Yoga and Ayurveda too are in demand, he says. He gets enquiries for Malayalam books but as his Indian customers are less than two per cent, he is unsure about stocking them. With its interiors in bright bucolic colours, rush mat stools Idiom is the rare old style book store.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2017 4:15:25 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/bookshops-in-fort-kochi/article7900272.ece