A second-hand book store in Chennai was started on the footpath by Alwar in 1960. Mary has been helping him since 1975 and now runs the shop single-handed. NOTE- Video is in Tamil and contains transcript of the interview.
Mary doesn’t have an address but she still receives couriers. Perched on a mountain of books, it is amazing that she doesn’t know how to read English but can still dig out the books her customers need. From 5th standard to engineering, from law to Chartered Accountancy, from IIT Entrance to GMAT, GRE and MBA, from comics to classics – there is an endless pool of knowledge here.
Several books are soggy after the recent rains, and the median on the road acts as a good stretch for them to dry. Buyers of all ages and professions visit the shop and whether they’ve come here with certain books in mind, or they just want to browse through this book lover’s paradise, they’ve come to the right place.
“Regular patrons who used to visit and buy a few classics every day are now long dead”, says Mary, “Now the demand is for comics, novels, school books and engineering books.”
With no one to help her out, workers demanding Rs. 500 per day and with four daughters, Mary does have a tough time but her energy and nose for sniffing out the right books ensures that she sells books worth Rs. 500-2000 every day. “But on rainy days and bad days, I might only manage to sell books worth Rs. 100″, she says. ($1 = Rs. 55)
Mary definitely fits the definition of ‘street smart’ – When a couple of youths came all the way from Sholinganallur to purchase engineering books, she asked me to help her find some of the books- in exchange for an interview.
She says that though many people with cameras and several people promising to help her have come and gone, no one has helped her so far in raising the Rs. 15,000 required to set up a proper shop with four walls and a roof. But if such a building was constructed, she would not have the property papers to support it and would get into a legal tangle.
The open air platform book store with literary treasures hidden within its depths has indeed become an unforgettable landmark in the area, along with the bearded and shirtless founder Alwar and his energetic aide Mary.