How often do you harbour the desire to get your hands on the first edition of some rare book that you have been longing to read for years? Popular e-commerce websites with their sizable discounts on crisp new bestsellers, fail to match up to the joy of chancing upon an old book and getting immersed in the scent of nostalgia. Now imagine, a bookshop which offers you pre-owned books with their coffee-coloured pages, at unbelievably low prices – sounds like a dreamland, doesn’t it? But, there’s more. Imagine all the money you spent in there, bagging book after book, is going to support over 1000 underprivileged kids.
Yes, a bookshop in Delhi has made all of this a reality. Sisters of The People, a charity bookshop near Lajpat Bhawan, houses an incredible collection of pre-loved books and all their sales proceeds are directed to sustain 18 balwadis (pre-schools) in the city. Old books, which would otherwise have ended up in the trash, are making way into new bookshelves, thereby ensuring a zero-waste concept.
Come once, come again and again…
Sisters of The People is an offshoot of the well-known NGO Servants of The People Society, established in 1921 by Lala Lajpat Rai. The charity bookshop has been there for over sixteen years, lurking in a quaint corner, hidden from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Stacks of pre-loved books line up the overflowing shelves in the room, all of which have been voluntarily donated by the owners. “Started in 2002 by late Mrs Satyanand, the bookshop has expanded its collection and visitors gradually. Though we operate only four days a week, footfalls are consistently increasing. I can assure you that someone who drops by our shop once, will keep coming back again and again,” asserts Astha, an enthusiastic volunteer who overlooks the marketing operations at the shop.
All these years, they have kept themselves from venturing much into the commercial arena, to preserve their primary aim – helping the children. So, most of their popularity has spruced from word of mouth, so much so that now they are receiving orders from all over India and delivering bulky packages to cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai etc. “We also have an Instagram page now, where book lovers can get glimpses of this little heaven,” she shares with Efforts For Good.
Flowering a thousand smiles
This is the part where the story grows more interesting. “All our profits are channelised entirely to 18 balwadis, housing around thousand children, between 3 to 6 years of age. The revenue from the bookshop funds the educational expenses for these youngsters, including their books, stationeries, uniforms, food, medical care and decent salaries for the teachers,” reveals Manisha from Sisters of The People. “We are preparing these children for getting admission to good schools,” she adds. They also conduct lots of workshops, festivals and activity-based programmes for these children.
The untrammelled smiles of thousand little faces bring the entire initiative to a full circle.
Discounts that dissolve distances
Curating versatile genres of books is an arduous task in itself, yet all the volunteers admit to finding themselves rejuvenated in the company of antique books that have withstood the test of time. “Alongside the social work, we are also reviving the habit of reading, which is waning among the youngsters in the surge of digital wave,” declares Manisha.
Readers who are relocating to other parts of the world, or simply anyone willing to share his or her prized collection with the community, drop in to donate their books at the shop. Price tags are attached then, guaranteeing at least a 50% discount on the printed MRP.
The jovial keepers of the zero-waste bookshop shares snippets of memories that keep them imbibed with motivation. “We have a buyer from Pune. Almost every month we are sending hefty packages to her. She expressed her sheer joy of finally finding a medium that is joining the two causes closest to her heart – reading and helping others,” narrates Astha.
Recycling to rebuild a beautiful society
Upholding the awareness about recycling and zero-waste lifestyle, Sisters of The People also run a thrift shop where pre-owned artefacts, handicrafts, paintings, furniture and even clothes are sold at reasonably low prices. The Masala Centre is another wonderful project by the organisation, which markets savoury spices, hand-ground by women from low-income families. This venture generates a steady source of income for these women, who were otherwise deprived of any employment opportunities.
The collective funds from all these shops support not only the balwadis, but also a school for differently-abled children as well as an old age home in Dwarka.
It is a rare circumstance that a bookshop is exclusively dedicated to selling the old and the gold. It is even rarer, perhaps a once in a blue moon situation, where such a shop is devoted entirely towards charity for the children. Sisters of The People is indeed a dream throbbing alive at the heart of Delhi, catering to multiple social causes at the same time. Efforts For Good applauds this unique initiative and sincerely hopes that more people discover magic on their shelves.