Why Twice Told Is More Than Just Another Book Festival

July 17, 2019

Around this time last year, while sitting in my cosy office with its large french windows, sink-in sofas and a warm mug of coffee, I tried calling Afzal. He wasn’t receiving calls; it had been three days and my new stash still hadn’t been delivered due to the incessant rain. I was looking forward to curling up with a new book but, sadly, it was not to be.  

Come monsoons, the bustling commerce on Mumbai’s roadside is literally washed out. Affected among traders of all kinds are second-hand booksellers like Afzal. While some booksellers stash away their precious collections waiting for sunshine to brighten their prospects, others choose to brave the weather, often safeguarding their wares over themselves. What if they didn’t have to choose between saving themselves or their books? What if we could provide them a safe spot under the dark clouds to carry on their commerce, ensuring their first editions don’t get soiled by the rain water?

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was. I quickly drew up a concept note and presented it to the Community Manager at CoWrks, Worli. She looked at me and just asked me one question – would we be able to pull it off before the monsoon recedes? I nodded affirmative.

Twice Told

With complete support from CoWrks, I went about setting up the show with the help of Swapbook!, the book club that introduced me to my story pedlars. Together, we hosted Twice Told over a period of five days. 400 book-lovers streamed in day and night and bought enough books to sustain the booksellers for the rest of the monsoons.

During those five days, we met all sorts of readers – old, young, finicky, curious, and even a larger lot of people wondering why we were doing what we were doing. Were we in it for the money? It barely covered our costs. Was it all about doing a pop-up with sellers we appreciated? Maybe. For me, it was more to do with the joy of lending a beautiful 50,000 square feet co-working space to booksellers who couldn’t afford more than a wooden stall at Matunga Circle or a hutment in Chembur or a small storage space beyond an obscure chapel. While their books are a delight, the places they are housed in, not so much. In the rains, they become largely unapproachable. After we had finished setting up the stalls, I still remember them saying that they hadn’t ever seen their books look so beautiful. But books – aren’t they always beautiful?

Twice Told is my way of giving back to the city sellers who have introduced me to second-hand books in a way Calcutta’s College Street hadn’t managed to. These sellers are accessible (available at your doorstep and fingertips) and their books are well-kept and cheap. Twice Told is also a way to spread the joy of reading and introduce readers to cheaper ways of buying delightful books, irrespective of the weather outside.

Over the last year, my understanding of books has evolved from it’s mere passive state of paper or e-ink to that of the spoken word, personal narratives and reimagining through performance. In this age of impatience, I feel that people are reading a lot less. Where you would delve into a book and reimagine worlds, you now see them being played out on your large screens. Where you would curl up and spend your weekend reading, you now catch up on your reading by listening to an audiobook while driving. Readers are now passively consuming books while doing other things, not actively participating in the joy of reading. I felt a need to shake them up and bring them back to focus on the story being shared so painstakingly by the writer, narrator or performer.

So this year, we extended the brief and made Twice Told more inclusive to accommodate a range of readers rather than the purists. From the beginners to the experts, from those who don’t have time to read anymore to those who would rather do nothing else- there is something for everyone.

This year’s Twice Told, held over four days, has been lovingly curated to ensure that we celebrate stories which need to be heard and those  that need retelling – whether be it in the form of a pre-loved, hand-me-down book or undiscovered literature made available through translations or storytelling of Hindustani* literature.

Twice Told is an immersive experience which involves all your senses and encourages active interaction rather than passive consumption of a story while doing other physical activity. Perhaps, this is why I feel so strongly about Twice Told – I believe there should be at least one place where people can abandon their prejudices and come with an open mind and interact with like-minded people without any judgement. And what better way to do so than literature. Literature from all over the country and world made accessible in a language that you can understand – English.

Translations from credible publishers like Seagull Books and Niyogi Books ensure that unknown or forgotten voices are presented authentically. Different voices, when heard, lead to greater tolerance in a diverse nation like ours and I feel that stories are the bridge to that. Somewhere down the line, we have lost the will to listen and understand each other, making us impatient with each other. If we could understand and empathise with each other, wouldn’t that make living a little more bearable? I would think so.

*Hindustani literature is an inclusion of Persian and Arabic words in Hindi literature prevalent in the early 19th and 20th Century.

Twice Told is one step towards promoting an inclusive reading culture where opinions are respected and diversity is tolerated. Where one reader can interact with another to understand how to open their minds; where an author can talk about his or her story and there is an attentive audience to listen to them; where a storyteller can ask questions to his engaged audience and receive a different perspective; where spoken word and the written one are accepted mutually.

In today’s fast-paced world where instant gratification and paucity of time make it difficult for a storyteller (of all sorts) to hold a reader’s attention for more than a few hours, Twice Told is the space where he can expect complete attention for his craft.

Love second-hand books? Come and join us for Twice Told, our four-day celebration of stories featuring second-hand book sellers, translations, Adivasi literature, culinary treats, spoken word poetry, storytelling, and so much more! Get the details here

All photographs provided by the author.

A late bloomer, Mansi started reading way past the Enid Blyton age. While bookworms around her spoke of Nancy Drew and The Famous Five, she knew the likes of Sweet Valley High, Fear Street and Roald Dahl. Disillusioned by how little she knew about books, she gave up reading altogether through her growing-up years, only to be introduced to Jeffrey Archer, five years later. After that, there was no turning back. Mansi is a voracious reader who devours books by the dozen and flits from one to the other, almost like she is programmed to do so. A content strategist for her nine year-old Design and Digital Studio One by One Design, amateur blogger, armchair traveller and a foodie who prefers vegetarian fare, Mansi would readily retire if she was paid to read! She is also the founder of a mood-based book recommendation site called What Are You Reading Today?

Read her articles here.