Meet 63 Y.O. Surekha Sharma Whose Sophia Bookstore Is A Boon For Book Lovers
- IWB Post
- June 12, 2018
If you ever are in Pune, make it a point to visit 63-year-old Surekha Sharma’s Sophia Book Store in the Koregaon Park area. Her store has books in over 14 languages, including German, Japanese, Swedish, Korean, Chinese, French, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch, Hebrew, Persian, Russian, and Italian, and are arranged meticulously.
The prime reason for Sophia’s Book Store’s popularity is because of its proximity to the Osho International Meditation Resort. “Foreigners who come to visit the Osho Ashram cannot sleep without reading,” Sharma said. “And it is because of them that my bookstore has worked.”
“If it would have been only Indians around here, my bookstore would have never done so well,” Sharma said. “I don’t blame Indians, because we don’t have the money for books. I never had the money, so I sought out libraries. But foreigners can afford a reading habit.”
She follows a uniques system in her store where she buys used books from her customers and sells them for anywhere between Rs 80 and Rs 250. She then passes on half the price to the original owner. Readers are also allowed to borrow used books at half-price. “I began my business very innocently, and I still run it that way. I ask the people giving me the book what it is about,” she said. “I think the only reason this place has worked is because I absolutely love books. I want to know more about books. So if a customer doesn’t give me a satisfactory explanation about a book, I put it aside and ask other visitors.”
Since she had been a young woman, Sharma had dreamed of opening a book store. “When I finished my BA, I was told by my father and brother that I should not work,” she said. “I asked them if I could start a library of my own, but they refused that as well.”
She started working as a typist after her father’s death, but when she got married she had to quit the job. “I was reading Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjay at the time and I was tremendously affected by it. And I thought, if it is giving me so much joy, I would like to share it with others. I firmly decided to open a bookshop at some time in the future. I thought that if nothing else, I would start giving books free to people in my village. And that was a lofty dream for someone who had no money.”
She started working in a bookstore when she moved to Goa with her husband owing to financial difficulties. “The couple running the store was not very well-informed, and I would help them with everything. Later, my husband and I returned to Pune, and that’s when I decided I was ready to finally start a bookshop,” she said.
In 1994, she borrowed some money from her mother and sister-in-law to start Sophia’s Book Store with just 10 of her husband’s used books, thinking that if the book store didn’t work out she would sell her jewellery to repay the money. “But this little shop worked and I returned their money within a month. Some of my family refused to lend me any money because they thought it was ridiculous to invest ten or twenty thousand rupees in a used bookstore. They said they would buy me gold if I needed, but wouldn’t give me the money for my shop. They lectured me about the stupidity of my venture, but I just heard them out and came home.”
If you ask Sharma what led her to success, she would say it was JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “A German woman visiting the [Osho] resort asked me if I could procure the book for her when it had just been released. I managed, and word spread among the people in the resort that I could get the book. Several people bought the book from me – I must have sold hundreds of copies.”
“All around the world, people feel that women are not treated well by men in India. A German customer was telling me that women in India tolerate a lot of their husband’s tantrums. I learned from these women to not remain dependent on my husband for my business needs,” she said.
As of today, she runs the store not because she needs money. “I am in love with this place and I learn so much every day from readers across the world. I won’t shut this shop as long as I am capable of running it. I just want people to feel like staying on in my bookshop for a few minutes. They need not give me business. But whoever comes to me should feel happy in my bookshop,” she said.