The success story of Chennai’s first ‘Lock the Box’ book sale

Readers thronged Chennai’s first Lock The Box book sale in tens of thousands, elbowing their way through the stacks to build their perfect collection

Updated - June 13, 2021 12:13 pm IST

Published - June 12, 2018 01:56 pm IST

Everyone at Vijaya Mahal, T Nagar looked happy and utterly exhausted. It was Bookchor’s maiden Lock The Box sale in Chennai, and bookworms were everywhere. Literally, everywhere. They were scattered in little groups on the ground floor lobby, making navigating the steps to the first floor difficult, and took up most of the space in the lobby up there as well. Each of them was barricaded in by mounds of books, with a pink, orange or green box by their side. Some were leisurely going through volume after volume, choosing the best ones that would make it into the coveted box. Others had already decided that they wanted everything and were engaged in a battle of wits with themselves, trying to fit it all in one box.

Once you had managed to make your way through these minefields, you reached the books themselves. They lined the wide walls, sat in stacks on staircases, and stood proudly in lines, five-deep, on table after table. The only spaces left were the little lanes for buyers to navigate through, boxes of books in hand, constantly apologising for bumping into someone or knocking over a precariously kept tote. Good books, however, were quite hard to find, and required hours of fishing through an array of pulp fiction and pre-teen romance. Danielle Steele was everywhere.

There were families lugging around gigantic pink boxes, groups of friends carrying smaller orange ones, and strangers discussing how to share a small green one without confusion: “Give me your number, here’s mine. Once you’ve found the books you want, give me a call and I’ll meet you with the box. We’ll split the cost.”

And then, there were those who didn’t even bother with boxes. They had plunged headlong into fray, reading lists in hand, with the idea of finding all the books they like and then deciding what size box they need. “Over three days, we had a footfall of 25,000 people,” says Alok Sharma, co-founder, Bookchor, “And we sold about 90,000 books.”

The figures are easy enough to believe Young volunteers — mostly students — had their hands full, arranging books, explaining the rules, and helping people find the way to their genre or author. None of them was complaining, though. “I came across a Facebook post calling for volunteers, and told my friends,” says Nirmala Raghav, a Masters student in Literature at the English and Foreign Languages University, “We’ve been working till about 8 pm everyday, but it’s okay because they’ve promised us a pink box each.” She doesn’t have time to say much else, being inundated the next moment with a phone call and two buyers asking for help simultaneously.

In the midst of this organised mayhem are small reminders that the venue, Vijaya Mahal, was originally meant for sedate engagements, weddings and the like. For Lock The Box, the curtained mandapam at the far end of the hall was designated, not to a bride and groom in their glorious wedding regalia, but to piles and piles of colourful cardboard boxes and to men whose sole job for the day was picking up a cardboard set, twisting it into the shape of a box, taping the bottom shut, and throwing it forward. Twist, tape, throw. Twist, tape, throw. Before them, flanking the front edge of the mandapam , were the cash counters where the boxes were handed over to eager customers. The rhythm here was somewhat erratic, allowing for the confusions of cash and card: smile, swipe, box. Or smile, count, box...all day long.

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