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Interview with Founders of Trilogy — The Eternal Library : A Reader’s Paradise in Bandra , Mumbai
One fine evening , I started to wander the streets of delightful yet exhausting city i.e. MUMBAI , which I’d decided to live in when i was…
One fine evening, I started to wander the streets of delightful yet exhausting city i.e. MUMBAI , which I’d decided to live in when I was a recent Business School Graduate starting my first full time job in Banking Industry(Wealth Management) , a youthful 20-something quite literally attempting to find his way. What’s more, as a rule, I’d discover my feet lead me into a book shop. Be that as it may, they were not Crosswords (Branded Chain of Bookstores) in a shopping mall. These were bookshops — locally owned businesses overflowing with appeal and personality as unusual as the characters that lived on their shelves.
Trilogy is an intensely curated library for books and viola!! : it also plays a dual role as a bookshop. It is situated at Bandra , Carter Road run by most adorable and wonderful humans — Meethil and Ahalya. It’s a warm and comfortable place where you can go through hours drenched in the absolute most enthusiastically recommended books. The library is loaded up with adorable little post-its with notes, recommendations, and even reviews by people in the form of drawings and doodles! Really an incredible spot to just loosen up and unplug and discover some true serenity in the midst of the hustle and clamor of Mumbai city.
As I spent hours (lost the count honestly) — sometimes until the sun set — in the edges of this eternal library , I regularly wondered why the owner isn’t pestering me; how a book shop could remain in business by simply letting its clients look at stock, frequently without ever really purchasing anything. In any case, some portion of the enchantment of independent book shops is, in fact their independence.
The owners of Trilogy (Meethil and Ahalya) are pure and unapologetic book lovers . They’re not like cold machines, or algorithms, or shining screens. They’re genuine, live individuals who are in this business that most people would say is destined to fail but because they love it . They can frequently be found behind the sales register with a pen in hand , doodling notes toward the edge of a page. They’ll either not utter a word to the clients who are silently strolling around their store or they may acquaint you to the secret memoir or timeless classics on a back rack that nobody in Mumbai knows about it yet, or simply just ring you up with a cheerful smile and a bookmark. The most adorable couple/bookstore owners volunteer to show everybody around, get some information about your tastes and inclinations and suggest books afterwards dependent on it.
Started by a young couple Meethil Momaya and Ahalya Naidu , the space is completely divided — the initial two-three sections are piece of the bookstore, and the rest belong to the library for us to borrow from. Their association with books goes back a long way.
The husband — wife pair , would normally give book suggestions to loved ones. They began in 2013 as a consultancy administration for corporates and private units, exhorting customers what books to stock, from where to source, how to manage inventory, how to set up a library, in addition to other things.
Meethil & Ahalya believe that there exists a potential for private libraries, as the quantity of titles being released each month is colossal and libraries have nearly vanished. Purchasing books is considerably more simpler currently, however storing them away isn’t.
Let’s us now talk to Meethil and Ahalya now to understand their journey and perspectives. :)
Q1) How was Trilogy — The Eternal Library was born? What made you decide to be a bookseller. Was there a ‘eureka moment’ in your life when you knew you loved books and wanted to point your career in that direction? How did you two meet? Did you work together before opening Trilogy?
Ahalya : Meethil and I met while I was working as an Editorial Assistant for the Bombay Natural History Society. He is a freelance professional wildlife photographer and after I left BNHS, we re-connected over stories I was researching as a journalist.
During our conversations about wildlife literature and science writing, we talked about gaps in Indian wildlife and science writing. We decided to do something about it and pursued a publishing course. While in Delhi for that course, we realised we might need to broaden our mission a little. We saw so many books, spanning genres, that we had been looking for in our city, that were readily available in Delhi. We realised just a fraction of the books available in India make it to our city for several reasons, so we decided to set up a consultancy that curated and supplied books you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the city to the city’s libraries and institutions. The publisher plans are on hold.
This is how The Eternal Library, our consultancy service was born. After a couple of years, we decided to set up our own space — Trilogy.
Q2) How did you decide on the name Trilogy?
Ahalya : For days, we kept dissecting names and dropping the conversation when it got too heated and poring through the dictionary. And then finally, while we were making dinner one evening, in a freewheeling conversation that was absolutely nothing about the name, the word Trilogy came up and we just stopped talking and realised that it was perfect. We saw Trilogy clearly as a place where we would combine what was seen till then as separate activities, a library, a bookshop, an event space; it signified a coming together of the author, the book and the reader. Trilogy made sense, it is a story that grows with every successive part, a combined effort to tell a whole story.
Q3) What do you love most about being a bookseller?
Ahalya : To start with, the word itself! Bookseller (or even librarian)! To add to your identity a word that has its roots in trees, literally. A word that goes back hundreds of years, that brings to mind the pursuit of knowledge, the act of passing on that knowledge, of being a bridge in that ocean of knowledge! It gives me the shivers! We love that we basically buy books for a living, we love the conversations we have with readers, and when new children’s books emerge from boxes, or translations that are waiting for a new audience arrive, and you can’t wait for a reader to take them home.
Q4) Tell me about what considerations you had to make when curating your bookshop.
Ahalya: First and foremost, it had to be about the books. As an editor, and with Meethil’s eye for production and aesthetics, we do believe books need to be well-written, well-produced (we don’t mean expensive binding or paper) and readers deserve books that are worth their time. Secondly, it had to be about the author. Authors who make it their life’s work to research and bring out books on an important subject for others, deserve the shelf space that is sometimes not available in bookshops that need to keep adding new stock. And finally, but also just as importantly — the reader. We are curating books for readers who are constantly looking to expand their reading appetite. Those who come in and say they read everything, they would get the most out of a place like ours.
Q5) when I visited Trilogy last time, I was in total awe by how the library’s organization seems fresh and so reader-friendly. Can you share some insights on your philosophy when it comes to organization?
Ahalya: If you want to engage readers, you’ve got to think like them, which is easy, because both of us are extremely voracious readers, while being finicky and open-minded. So we basically kept in mind our needs, and those of the readers we know and started building from the ground up, but, word of caution, you will have to include genres and authors that maybe you aren’t particularly drawn to, you have to experiment with formats and prices and publishers, because reading is an evolving personal preference for most readers.
Q6) you must have so many authors and publishers hoping you’ll stock their books. What makes you decide to order a title in?
Ahalya: The book. The content has to be well written (and well edited), it has to make sense for us to buy it, do we have readers for the book? If it is an entirely new category will we be able to find readers for this, or more books on the subject? Some genres work here more than others. Readers make the time to come to the shop and want to find books they wouldn’t have found elsewhere, we would like to keep it that way, by curating books as well as we can. If we were to add books that we were pushed to carry, that would be glaringly obvious to readers and we wouldn’t like that.
Q7) Do you have favorite books and authors, or a genre that you’d like to share?
Ahalya: Meethil and I bonded over books about wildlife and science and that is still our favourite part of the bookshop and library. When the lockdown began, we realised we were back to reading David Quammen, the very first author we both bonded over. Our tastes in fiction veer far away from each other, unfortunately. He likes Mark Twain and I like Terry Pratchett, he likes thrillers and I like McCall Smith. Also, this helps because I get summaries of books about business and history and I can’t help telling him the whole story from the books I read.
Q8)Is there anything you’d like to say about independent book sellers? It seems like you’ve cracked the code.
Ahalya: There is no code, just as there is no one prototype reader. We are all the same and different. We chose this way of life. Indie booksellers can be a hardy lot, with a wry sense of humour and lots of old fashioned belief in ethics and integrity. Romantic notions about bookselling aside, we’ve just got to stay the course. Like I said, this has been going on for hundreds of years, societies change, adapt, grow, remember and revert to older things that give satisfaction.
The majority of media is so heavily invested in the new thing, and thereby heralding the end of what came before, that they forget that two things can co-exist, not everything has to be shiny and new and be made of algorithms. Most readers these days are ‘hybrid’ readers, adept with reading on their devices and paperback.
When it comes down to it, bookshops are as old as gardens, museums, universities, and much older than coffee shops, bookshops will continue to be around, and pretty much be the same inside.
Q9)Any challenges or surprises you’ve encountered in your years of bookselling?
Ahalya: Oh, so many. One thing we believe in, don’t judge a good book or reader by their appearance. It is sometimes dispiriting not being able to have a smooth logistical connection with publishers and distributors, it does cramp (our style) and the actual sale of books. I would love to promise a reader to get them the book they want, but to make it happen even keeping in mind realistic timelines is a challenge. The book could get damaged, the purchase order could lapse, the follow-up is all on the phone, there’s no tech solution to see where your order is in real time.
When it comes to the books we sell, people have got to stop being so negative about the future of the book industry and focus on bringing out better books. This whole disturbing trend of focusing on maximizing sales, to the point of lowering prices, pushing celebrities, marketing the bejesus out of a book, and then dropping it a few weeks later for the next new thing, is just nuts. Books aren’t products, they define society, the people who buy them aren’t customers, they are patrons of the art.
Why do publishers spend so much time, resources, energy making books that should ideally be edited heavily a hundred times (or not be printed at all) and push their precious little manpower to move those books? Why do they not focus on building a diverse range of voices that matter? And since when did publishing houses become two types? Editor led and marketing led? Why did we let the second type take over, because they always and easily will. They make use of every way to push sales, including becoming mouthpieces for powerful voices!
People think bookshops are in trouble, I would say readers are in trouble too. Where are the good informed reviews, the non-celebrity led literary events where little known voices and languages are given the platform they rightfully deserve? The funds for public libraries, the space in the media to talk about events that highlight Indian literature?
Q10) Do you have any favorite memories or stories about connecting books with customers?
Ahalya: So many, Rishabh. We’ve seen people start a conversation over books in the library, and a few years later they’re getting married; a lovely couple spoke about their dream about having a child, and a few years later watching that baby enter our space for the first time, gives me goosebumps still. Older men and women, who have probably read everything we can show them, gently walking past our shelves, nodding approvingly and throwing one author name after another and smiling when we’ve heard of them, this is our rocket fuel.
Q11) In what ways Shakespeare and Company, Paris and its current owner Sylvia Whitman’s bookselling philosophy and eccentricity had inspired you guys?
Shakespeare & Company, Paris : An Interview with Sylvia Whitman
I had a wonderful & insightful conversation and Q&A session with Sylvia about Bookselling Business Ecosystem. [Interview Sylvia Whitman (2020)]
Ahalya : By existing. Shops like Shakespeare and Company inspire by being who they unapologetically are. By not compromising on their legacy, by doing what it takes to be a space that welcomes people from around the world. They keep the ideal alive (we do remember that one of the very first books you got from us was a hardback on Shakespeare and Company :) )
Q12) If you could expand your space infinitely, what would you add to Trilogy?
Ahalya : More shelves. A terrace, a telescope, a garden (more like a forest) with old trees and bird feeders.
Q13) Any trends or predictions for the bookselling industry?
Ahalya : By ‘bookselling industry’ I understand you are mainly referring to bookshops. This is the time for bookshops to adopt new models of selling, like an online-offline hybrid model. This will really increase their reach and they will get more readers buying from them. With the rapid development of the logistics sector the delivery of books should get more affordable and hassle free.
Many bookstores will add an online shop to their website. Those who already have one will start taking it more seriously and make it a valid second source of revenue.
The progressive bookshops will depend on peer collaboration to make sure readers get their books from booksellers who love them and are invested in nurturing their reading and not from warehouses who don’t know the difference between how to handle soap powder and books.
Indie bookshops are constantly upgrading themselves and trying to figure out the best way to meet their readers’ demands, at the same time readers will also learn to be a bit more understanding and patient with their neighborhood bookshop as they come to understand the value of that relationship.
Indie book shops bolster our creativity. Trilogy regularly organizes reading workshops, book club meets, book launches, author meetups, writer occasions, themed understanding gatherings, and different exercises that make the way for new musings and new thoughts. Books have assisted with forming the psyches of the most inventive and creative scholars. With racks of outside the box stores frequently stuffed to the edge, hours can pass as you wander , consider, and maybe find that “startling diamond” that starts your next huge idea.
Shouldn’t something be said about the “comfort” of requesting books over the Internet? Except if you request your new organic product online, meet your friends through video conferencing, and would confide in your drugs to an on-line drug store, you are rewarding your scholarly existence with less regard than you treat your different hungers and needs. Shouldn’t something be said about the book that is racked close to the one you were really looking for — what if that other book is the one to transform you?
Try not to consider indie bookshops as being out of your way — think of them as your destination.
Thank you all for reading and a big thanks to Meethil and Ahalya for collaborating in today’s post!
It’s a pleasure!
TRILOGY : CURATED LIBRARY & BOOKSTORE
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