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Books, books, books...

We're talking books here. Fiction, management, technology, fashion designing... the works. They may be second-hand, but definitely not second-best, says K. JESHI

I STILL vividly remember the first day at school every year, when the entire class would get to lay our hands on new text books. The feel of fresh unopened pages and the crisp binding was sheer enchantment. Later, as I grew, I realised that not every student was fortunate enough to enjoy the same pleasure.

So, what do the unfortunate ones who cannot afford to buy new textbooks do? They flock to the second-hand bookshops and scour through the mounds of dusty books for their copy. Little wonder that a whole lot of people throng Ukkadam.

On reaching the bus stand, turn left and what welcomes you is an old Corporation building that houses 31 old bookstores. All types of books are available here: textbooks, guides, technical, non-technical, fiction, non-fiction... name it and you'll find it.

"It is at these book stores that one can get the best bargains or choices and the joy of finding a rare book that one has been searching for a throwaway price. Not to mention the atmosphere in which one can chat with other `hunters' while browsing through the books," says Sijo from Kottayam, who was looking for engineering books at the old bookstall.

Service n' sales

For the dealers, selling books is not only a source of income; it's also their way of serving students. "Economically backward students pursuing professional courses like engineering and medicine find it extremely difficult to buy new textbooks, each costing a few hundred or thousand rupees. Second-hand books come in handy to meet their needs. The maximum demand is for engineering textbooks and more than 50 per cent of our clientele is from Kerala," dealers say.

These shops also sell new books. They have introduced a unique scheme for the benefit of students.

"A person can buy new books from us and return them. We sell it to them at a 20 per cent discount, and when they return it, we pay them 40 per cent of the cost. That way, they end up paying only 40 per cent for new books," says M. B. Mubarak, a seller and member of the Coimbatore Ukkadam Old Books Merchants Association.

The books available, the acumen of the seller and the rapport he shares with customers all matter.

A piece of history

Rare collections like the `Kural of Thiruvalluvar' (published in 1885), books on `Nadi josiyam' (published in 1952) and 100-year-old books on homeopathy are available. "Students look for books like `Glossary of Literary Terms', `Perrine Literature on Structure, Sound and Sense of Words', `Sherlock Holmes' and the poetry collection of John Keats," says A. S. Abdul Majid who has been selling old books for 30 years.

Students prefer second-hand book stores because they are economical. They feel it is a very cost-effective way to augment their collection.

The idea is to buy more and read more.

Those who love second-hand books come from all backgrounds and age groups — job-hunters, students, retired persons, writers, professionals, college students, executives and homemakers — to ferret out their kind of books from the tall shelves.

"People are increasingly buying books on spirituality, market economy, globalisation and professional courses like IT, engineering and medicine, besides bestsellers and famous children's books," says D. Ashok Kumar, Secretary of the Association.

The show goes on

"We manage to run the show by rotating the money we earn and so cannot stock too many books. If banks come forward to lend us loans at nominal interest rates, we could build up our collection," the dealers say. Such interest from people who are not English-literate.

Despite this, they have a pulse on what sells and what does not. Though these traders make very thin profit margins, each shop owner contributes Rs. 50 per week towards a medical fund.

The amount is used for treating underprivileged children with heart problems.

The best part about shopping here is the heavy discounts offered.

The entire volume of `The Oxford textbook of medicine-edited by D.J. Weatherall, J.G.G. Ledingham and D.A.Warrell' is sold for Rs. 4,000 (the original price is Rs.9, 600).

The way the sellers behave is also admirable. You'll hardly see anyone aggressively wooing customers. They wait patiently for the customer to finish checking out the books before they step in to close a deal.

For phone orders, call: 2391631, 2394303 and 2391727. The complex is open on all days from 8 a.m to 9.30 p.m except on Fridays between 12.30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

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