If a High Court order mandating the immediate removal of illegal encroachments is to be implemented, the used book shops at Palayam will be uprooted once again

It’s Id-ul-Fitr but it’s no holiday for Shaji Khan, Hamid Noushad, Sameer, Jayan and most of the other shopkeepers who run the 28 used book stalls at Palayam, on the road adjacent to the Public Library leading to Nandavanam. After all, their very livelihood is at stake thanks to a Kerala High Court judgement that mandates the immediate removal of all roadside encroachments. The district administration is likely to enforce the order in the coming days. If that happens, this will be the second such eviction in five years for this particular group of shopkeepers; they had to move here from near the Saphalyam complex at Palayam to make way for shopping centre’s car park.

“We only came to know about the order from the papers. We have not yet received any such notification. But, nevertheless, we are counting the days,” says Shaji. He and the other booksellers, most of who hail from Nemom, have a resigned air about them even as they cater to customers, many of them regulars, a fair number of them students, who troop in and out in search of second-hand novels (and quite a few rip-offs of latest releases too), reference manuals, academic books of all kinds and the like.

“We actually specialise in academic books, especially expensive engineering and medical tomes, which we source from all across the country and sell at less than half the price. We also stock books for class seven onwards of all syllabi, be it CBSE, NCERT or State,” says Hamid, as he unerringly pulls out a particular handbook on paediatrics from the back of the stall, for a senior citizen in search of the book for his granddaughter.

“We are patronised by people from all walks of life, from Government employees and judges to politicians, students, and ordinary folk. People also come to us to exchange books, which we buy at half the price we sold them for,” quips Sameer, who has strolled up from his stall to join the conversation. He has been selling books for over 18 years now. “Most of us are uneducated but all of us love reading. I have a book collection at home,” adds Hamid.

As many citizens will tell you these stalls are almost like an institution in the city and are said to have a history of at least 35 years, with Palayam being the centre of operations. Hamid’s father, Noushad, for instance, was one of the first to set up the stalls. Hamid, who took over his father’s business some 12 years ago, says: “The first stalls, I think, were set up at East Fort near Putharikandam Maidan and were nothing more than tarpaulin sheets on the road piled high with books. Many in our group started off selling books in front of the Bank of Baroda building at Palayam. Then, when the footpath was laid there we were told to move to the University College area, on a stretch near a transformer. After a few years we were moved to the Saphalyam area. And just when we had established there we were uprooted to this place.”

Despite the impending upheaval, though, the shopkeepers, on the whole, seem to be an optimistic lot. “As we have in earlier instances, we are willing to go wherever the authorities tell/suggest us to go – no hassles. All we want is a place to sell our wares. This is the only livelihood we know and the lives of 60 plus families depend on the stalls. Ideally, we would like the authorities to permanently rehabilitate us and build a complex like what the local authorities did for our compatriots in Coimbatore at Ukkadam and Bangalore’s Avenue Road. Or, closer to home, something like the row of shops that they built to house the vendors displaced by the upcoming over bridge at Thakaraparambu or those put up for the chip shops at East Fort,” says Shaji.

And are they not worried about losing their business if they are shifted to a completely new area? “The first few months will be hard yes, but once word spreads about our new location the customers will keep coming,” he adds.