You must be very brave, or very foolhardy, to open a new bookshop today. Specially, if it’s a small bookshop, and not part of the nationwide chains (which expand as if there’s no tomorrow). Or one of those online ventures which creates so much business for themselves, offers tempting discounts, and also simultaneously has helped kill many other real-concrete bookshops.

But then, my friend Leonard Fernandes and his wife, Queenie Rodrigues Fernandes, set up a bookshop in the past month itself. Aptly enough, it was launched on International Children’s Book Day. And, aptly again, it decided to focus on children’s books and Goa-related titles.

(By way of an aside, I’ve been fixated with the idea of Goa-related books for over the past three decades. From the mid-1980s, a time when there were so few easily-available books on this subject. The situation has meanwhile changed quite a bit, over time.)

Leonard and Queenie run PublishingNext. This event is held in Goa each year around September, and has grown into one of the most appreciated publishing national meet-ups held across the country. They’ve held it successfully for the past half-a-dozen times, and so one can hardly suspect them of being unrealistic. In addition, they also run a print-on-demand publishing firm, Cinnamon Teal.

Their new bookshop is in the heart of Margao, not far from the main Rua Abade Faria. A short distance away, you can find another no-frills but well-stocked and very practical bookshop. The latter, the Golden Heart Emporium, is run by the more senior husband-and-wife team of Walburg and Philo Coutinho. This has been very successfully run since the 1970s. In more reading-intensive days, it was known as a very popular library too.

But such is not the fate of most of the bookshops, either in Goa or in the rest of the country. Just look at the reports of bookshop closures from far and wide. Once successful ventures complain of difficulties in finding clients, gaining footfalls, and staying viable.

Goa’s new venture, the Dogears Bookshop (named after the couple’s first venture, DogearsEtc, which was initially meant to sell used books) has other plans. Its goal is not to be just a bookshop, but to build itself into a kind of community space.

Not an easy task. But the plans they were talking of includes offering their space for meetings and even music shows.

Would this prove to be more difficult than expected, or easier? Building a bookshop is a slow and painful process, with a long gestation. Indian book prices — with a few exceptions — tend to be reasonable-to-low, while real estate costs are skyrocketing all the time. More so in a place like Goa.

But, that apart, there are a lot of things which can be done to make books more appealing, and quick to sell. Children’s books do need a push, and the new bookshop’s gamble is interesting. Ditto for Goa books.

There was a time when the Mapusa-based Other India Bookstore was the only place with a decent collection of Goa-related books. Today, almost every books (except parts of wider chains and airport outlets) have separate sections dealing with Goa.

But then, given the limited number of bookshops that Goa has, despite the many visitors to the place, our efforts are forever falling short.

The historic place where the bookshop has come up has a lot to offer. Recently, some photo walks have been held in the area, with a focus on its heritage and landmarks. The principal of Goa’s architecture college, Prof Ashish Rege, has also crafted a heritage map of this part of Margao.

It’s time for Goa — the home to the first movable type printing press in Asia in 1556 — to build its own literary map and tours. We’ve had one of the first archives in Asia, and other first.

Still, Goa has a long way to go when it comes to promoting the written word. More so when compared to other states like nearby Kerala.

Text and pics: Frederick Noronha

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