Priti Paul has just re­leased ABC Desi, a com­pen­dium for chil­dren and the new­est chap­ter in her life-long ro­mance with books

MillionaireAsia India - - In Conversation - By Sam Lal

De­spite all tech­nol­ogy-led claims to the ef­fect, books are in no dan­ger of fac­ing im­mi­nent ex­tinc­tion. In fact, if truth be told, read­er­ship habits have placed un­shake­able faith in the for­mat, which has been around for cen­turies and which will, in all like­li­hood, en­dure for a few dozen mil­len­nia into the fu­ture.

En­tre­pre­neur Priti Paul is an avid book lover. Di­rec­tor of the very re­puted Apee­jay Sur­ren­dra Group, she has steered the iconic Ox­ford Book­store chain to hith­erto un­known heights and has made it one of the most loved con­gre­ga­tional points for read­ers all across the na­tion.

Ed­u­cated at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, Har­vard Univer­sity and the Ar­chi­tec­tural As­so­ci­a­tion School of Ar­chi­tec­ture, United King­dom, she has spear­headed the real es­tate di­vi­sion of the Apee­jay Sur­ren­dra Group which in­cluded ex­pand­ing the foot­prints of Ox­ford Book­store.

De­scribed as the best equipped base camp for jour­neys of the mind, Ox­ford was es­tab­lished in 1919. It was reimag­ined as Book­store – Gallery on its plat­inum an­niver­sary in 1995. Priti is the cre­ative force be­hind the store and should be cred­ited with en­sur­ing top-of-mind re­call for the brand in the book lovers’ uni­verse.

Ex­tend­ing her pas­sion for books, read­ing and learn­ing into another area, Priti has also been Dar­shanaat the Ubl fore­front of an ini­tia­tive that seeks ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren that come from eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions of so­ci­ety. The Apee­jay Anand Chil­dren’s Li­brary is run ex­pressly for the benet of street chil­dren and a string ef­fort to in­cul­cate a love for books and read­ing amongst chil­dren who can­not re­ally af­ford it.

We spoke to the in­spir­ing en­tre­pre­neur who is a mem­ber of some very pres­ti­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects, Women in Ship­ping and Trade As­so­ci­a­tion, Eng­land, the FICCI Com­mit­tee of Art and Busi­ness of Art and many more.

What fac­tors led to the con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of ABC Desi?

It stemmed from the fact that I had not come across an al­pha­bet book that catered to a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren. Most books il­lus­trate the English al­pha­bet with im­agery that might be some­what alien to an In­dian child and what we wanted to do was to take ob­jects and il­lus­tra­tions that are a part of their sur­round­ings and put them to­gether in a book.

Since, a book of this de­scrip­tion did not ex­ist, I de­cided to make one my­self. ABC Desi cel­e­brates mod­ern In­dia. It is a book where cul­tural ref­er­ences abound and each al­pha­bet ac­com­pa­nied by il­lus­tra­tions that cre­ate a very In­dian im­agery. You will see a con­ver­gence of English al­pha­bet and In­dian vi­su­als, which make it very in­ter­est­ing.

To what do you at­tribute your love of books?

I feel a very big part of it comes from grow­ing up in Kolkata. It is a city which is very in­clined to­wards the arts and I grew up sur­rounded by books.

Ed­i­tor’s Note:

The Ox­ford Book­store in Kolkata is nearly a 100 years old and has been an in­trin­sic part of Kolkata’s lit­er­ary land­scape over the years. It is the ag­ship store for the Ox­ford chain and formed nu­cleus of Apee­jay Kolkata Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val, an an­nual event which Priti started in 2010. Priti grew up in Kolkata and the city with its artis­tic spirit is very spe­cial to her.

Do you feel that tech­nol­ogy is slowly mak­ing the con­cept of books re­dun­dant?

You know if you would have asked me this ques­tion some four or ve years ago, I prob­a­bly, have given you a very dif­fer­ent an­swer. The jury was still out on this de­bate and it was not very clear if books would sur­vive in their orig­i­nal form or if they would evolve to a dif­fer­ent for­mat, which based it­self on tech­nol­ogy and the In­ter­net.

How­ever, I can very safely say that this whole de­bate seems very set­tled. It is ab­so­lutely clear that tech­nol­ogy is not go­ing to ad­versely af­fect books or tra­di­tional read­ing habits. Tech­nol­ogy inuenced forms of read­ing have not re­ally taken off the way they were ex­pected to and books have con­tin­ued to thrive. I do not think that books will ever be­come re­dun­dant.

Ed­i­tor’s Note:

Per­haps the most con­clu­sive ar­gu­ment in this en­tire E-books ver­sus ac­tual pa­per books comes from the fact that E-com­merce and cloud com­put­ing gi­ant Ama­zon has re­cently opened its sev­enth brick-and-mor­tar book­store. Lo­cated on the third oor of the Time Warner Cen­ter in New York City, this store is proof of the fact that books are right where they be­long – on book shelves.

Are you plan­ning to take Ox­ford out­side of In­dia as well?

The Ox­ford ex­pe­ri­ence has its roots in In­dia and it has its read­ers here who love the ex­pe­ri­ence. I have another brand in Mar­rakesh. It is called Kathakali and it is has been our con­stant en­deav­our to open the world of South Asian, In­dian and world lit­er­a­ture Moroc­can read­ers.

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