Dileep S has been a touring vendor of books for 23 years

Dileep’s clients are largely policemen and authorities workers in Thiruvananthapuram

Dileep’s clients are largely policemen and authorities workers in Thiruvananthapuram

There is a buzz round a sightly constructed man on a bike on the State Armed Police (SAP) campus at Peroorkada in Thiruvananthapuram. Conversations are animated and after an hour or two, every of the policemen leaves with a pile of books in hand whereas the seller of tales travels to his subsequent vacation spot.

Jayakumar SS, a retired policeman, recounts that he met Dileep S in 1998 when he was a police constable on the SAP camp. “Dileep used to come on foot with a collection of the latest books. For more than 23 years, he has been selling books of all genres on our campus. By now, he knows the preferences of each of his customers and we have come to rely on his recommendations.”

For 42-year-old Dileep, son of a rubber tapper from Kuttichal, 28 km from Thiruvananthapuram, promoting books is a vocation and an extension of his love for studying and books. “Vidhyadharan Vasudevan, an uncle of mine, was an avid reader. He influenced me to take up studying. I adopted within the footsteps of a pal and took up promoting books on the age of 19 to assist my household meet ends. Although he stopped, I continued with my gross sales,” he says.

Dileep S, a resident of Kuttichal, travels in and around Thiruvananthapuram to sell books

Dileep S, a resident of Kuttichal, travels in and round Thiruvananthapuram to promote books | Photo Credit: Sreejith R Kumar

Initially, Dileep used to journey by bus from Kuttichal to go to city-based publishers and buy their books. “I bought books from Premier, a sales agency, which offered a 40% discount. I was able to earn a reasonable profit from sales. In those days, there were many publishers in the capital city — Premier, Universal, Akshara, Computech and Prashanti. Many shut shop as big publishers entered the market and reading habits changed,” he says.

At present, he buys books from a couple of leading publishers with outlets in the city. His USP is that he brings the books to his customers’ doorstep.

Dileep’s biggest customers are policemen. Many of them pay for the books in installations. “Dileep is like family now. Thanks to him, I became a good reader and a collector of good books, which I consider as my biggest savings,” says Jayakumar.

Dileep asserts that many policemen are voracious readers and, in consequence, “I was able to widen my reading and knowledge of books. For instance, once, Sivaprasad, a policeman at the camp, requested me to get him the translation of VS Khandekar’s Jnanapith award-winning Marathi novel, Yayati, In that way, I also end up reading some of those books.”

In the nineties and naughties, there were about 3,000 policemen training in the camps in the city. Ultimately, the Kerala Armed Police camp was shifted to Adoor.

Word-of-mouth publicity helped Dileep gain customers. He recalls that until five or six years ago, he was allowed to enter government offices and schools where he had many buyers among the staff. Over the years, Dileep was able to gain their trust in his recommendations of authors. “Readers are a diverse lot. Some are eclectic readers while some have distinctive choices, such as thrillers, novels, short stories, travelogues, biographies, classics… Although online sellers have made a huge dent in my sales, many customers continue to patronize me,” he says.

His clients include nurses, employees in government departments and so on but a large percentage of his customers remain policemen. “During the pandemic, the demand for books went up. Now, people have gone back to their busy lifestyles,” he adds.

Four years ago, Dileep managed to buy five cents of land in his home town and set up a lending library, Nirmala Lending Library, in his late mother’s name. His collection of around 4,000 books is now housed there. He admits that there aren’t as many readers as he would have wished. But he is optimistic that once the pandemic fears are put to rest, the library will attract more readers.

Inflation and the rise in the price of petrol have cut his profits. “Moreover, publishers have cut down the window for full payment. Earlier, we had to make a nominal down payment and pay the rest within six months. Now, that time has been reduced to 45 days. That has hit me hard as customers buy books on installations. It used to work to our benefit,” he explains.

In addition, he feels that security concerns in many offices have been a hurdle for salespeople like him as they are not allowed inside offices.

The father of two has not let diminished profits or dwindling customers reduce his love for books and reading. “Margins are less now. But I have a loyal clientele. Moreover, bookshops in the city and leading publishers trust me. I get a list of books that will be released and I get them pre-orders for new books or reprints. Books have been bread and butter for me and that will continue,” says Dileep.

(The twenty sixth PN Panicker National Reading Day/Digital Month Celebrations 2022 is being noticed until July 18, 2022)

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