Indian bookstore in Morocco promotes Indian literature

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi: India is writing a new literary chapter in Marrakesh with a boutique bookstore, “Kathakali”, which is opening up the world of South Asian, Indian and world literature to Moroccan readers.

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The bookstore – the first to be owned by an Indian business conglomerate, the Apeejay Surrendra Group – is managed by director of the group Priti Paul, who also looks after the affairs of the Oxford Bookstore chain across the country.

“I have just opened my bookstore in Marrakesh. It is like a boudoir of books offering readers selections from French, Arabic and English languages. The shop has a huge section devoted to African books as well,” Priti Paul, director of the Apeejay Surrendra Group told IANS in the capital.

Paul, who lives in Africa, divides her time between India and Morocco to conduct her book business.

“The literacy rate in Morocco is low and books are expensive. They do not have special-priced editions like in India. But Moroccans’ passion for books is amazing. Even the expensive books in my shop are selling,” Paul said.

The bookstore has a distinctly Arab feel to it with a rich Islamic decor in bright red bases and Moroccan furniture.

The highlight of the store is the collection of Indian writing that has been received well people in Marrakesh, Paul said.

“I have taken Indian authors who write on relevant and universal subjects like Gandhi and children’s books published by Katha, a Indian publisher with a strong commitment to tradition. It has more than 150 titles for young readers,” Paul said.

The director of the Apeejay Surrendra Group said “the books by Katha were an introduction to Indian cultural and literary heritage for Moroccans”.

“There is no Indian diaspora in Morocco. But why can’t African and Moroccan readers buy Indian books when we are familiar with African literature. It is difficult business proposition given the competition from bi-lingual bookstores and publishing houses in the country. French and Arabic are the two predominant languages in Morocco,” Paul explained.

“I am trying to bring African books to India written or translated in English,” Paul said.

Paul believes that children must know where they come from. “I am doing a Young Zubaan imprint for children with the APJ Press of highly visual graphic novels with Indian content. There are four titles,” Paul said, citing Indian contexts for books.

“If a child is shown grappling with an animal in a book, it should be a crocodile rather any other foreign beast because a crocodile is an Indian animal,” she said.
Paul’s target audience is children.

Bookstores need to redefine itself to stay afloat in the future. “Those big bookstores have shrunk in US. The large chainstores of books with racks upon racks of books are soul-less. Where do you go,” Paul said.

The new bookstores should be “breakaway spaces, interactive and entertainment spaces that will promote literature with related cultural and reading events. It should be holistic combination of books, culture, arts, fashion and food,” Paul said.

The Apeejay Surrendra Group that built its bookstore chain with the acquisition of the 1919 Oxford Bookstore and Stationary Company, an iconic heritage landmark of Kolkata, has revived a 100-year-old British Raj relic in Connaught Place to relocate its bookstore in the national capital.

A sprawling white colonial mansion in the N-Block of the capital’s commercial district has been extensively restored and renovated over the last 18 months to make room for the store, Paul said.

The bookstore was earlier located in The Statesman building.

“It is our contribution to the capital’s built heritage – and model of heritage regeneration. The space was in disrepair. It was difficult. We have restored three heritage structures so far – the Jantar Mantar in the capital, the Park Mansions in Kolkata and the colonial building in Connaught Place,” she said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])