The best thing about human beings is that they love the art of reading, be it stories, novels, autobiographies, or current affairs. Books make us think, provides us inspiration and serves as a gateway to another world where we are totally independent. There is something undeniably special about reading. And we don’t just love to read books, but also love to talk about them.

So this week, storiesofcommonman brings to you the story of Ali, a soft-spoken, ever smiling ‘second-hand bookseller’ who began his business at the footpath of Court More, Siliguri.

His father died at an early age and so he had to leave his studies in other to feed his family. He never had a burning desire to open a bookstore but, when opportunity knocked, he gave it a try. He migrated to Siliguri at the age of 15 and began his business at the footpath of Court more. He recollects that he was occupied only with a Hindi grammar book and few novels. But now, it has become one of the favorite book spots for kids as well as the elderly. but being the favorite spot doesn’t end one’s struggle.

He belongs to the lowest strata of society and has to strive a lot to manage two square meals a day for his family. Ali has two children with his beautiful wife – a son(12 years) and a daughter(9 years). Despite his grim financial circumstance, he never compromises with their studies. His son is studying in class 6 and daughter in 3. Both are from an esteemed English medium school. He couldn’t afford their tutoring. So, he himself teaches them and in this way learns along with them.

Even after discontinuing his studies, his zeal to read never decreased. Before selling the books to his customers, he usually skims through them. So, he flips through the pages or asks his customers for a summary next time they visit him. In this way, he usually makes friends with his customers.

Having gained twenty-seven years of experience, he is now well versed with the taste of the readers. “Romance is one of the most popular genres among youngsters. Whenever a new romantic novel comes to his outlet, his stall is flocked with students from colleges as well as schools. Many of them book those novels in advance. Women are generally interested in family novels similar to daily soaps. Books on humor also find many takers. Most of them are relatives of patients at a Medical Hospital near his stall. They buy these jokes books to kill time in the hospital. The jokes melt away the worries and help them see the lighter side of life, they say. Competitive exam books (JEE, CAT, IBPS, etc) are always on demand.”

In his nearly three decades of experience, he has observed an increasing trend in the reading habits of the people. Parents are keen to develop reading habits in children while they are drawn to painting books and comics with pictures of animals and cartoon characters. Literature lovers advise him to stock more classics and award-winning novels. They give him a list. He promises them that they will see them on his, shelves the next time they visit. And, he also reminds them to tell him the story once they finish the book. Adding his taste, he says “I love reading mystery novels and poems”. Poems because he dictates them to his cute daughter once he returns home and the price of the little smile he receives is uncountable as it makes him feel optimistically, breathlessly, and tenaciously alive.

“Seeing people connect and get excited over books, from the joy of reading to the camaraderie of people connecting over an interesting passage, or the innocent smile of a child getting a new comic book to read, or a student holding and feeling the texture of the book. All of this instills a faith in me that despite all the bad, this world can still dish up, something as simple as words on paper can still deliver joy”, says Ali!

—Subham Kant Das