Thursday, July 18, 2024

In Conversation with Amrut Deshmukh – The Booklet Guy

Priyal Dholakia (Assistant Editor)

For around 50 lakh readers in India, book summaries are synonymous with the name Amrut Deshmukh, aka The Booklet Guy. Though he best identifies himself with the tag of “social entrepreneur”, he is a writer, a chartered accountant, a Tedx speaker, a voracious reader, and most importantly, a man working tirelessly towards the dream of making India a “nation of readers.” Meet the man behind the mission as he shares his insightful take on his life’s journey, challenges, and future plans.

EH: Many of our readers would probably already know your story and how you started Booklet, but for those who are not aware, can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to start it?

AD: I am a chartered accountant by education, but the CA career path never really fascinated me. I was dealing in the stock markets, making a lot of money but never really getting any satisfaction. Although my bank balance was increasing day by day, my mental health was going for a toss. I had three failed startups in a row, which really took a toll on my health. Then, one fine day, I got a call from one of my friends inviting me to join him for a movie. I consented, and we reached the movie hall 15 minutes before showtime. Therefore, to kill the time, I decided to narrate to him the book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, a famous book written by Steven Covey. He was quite impressed with my explanation, and he appreciated the fact that I am an avid reader. He asked me if I kept notes scribbled while I was reading books, and I replied that I did. Then he asked me to share photos of my notes with him on WhatsApp so that my reading habit could indirectly benefit him. This was the moment that helped me shift my career and eventually led to a movement. The idea intrigued me so much that I left the movie midway to rush back home and reflect on it. I had never really envisioned that this would eventually translate into the movement called “Mission: Make India Read”.

EH: Can you share what your main objectives and goals were when you initially started out on Mission Make India Read?

AD: Sure! So, after my friend suggested the idea to me, I was so excited that I could not sleep that entire night. I surfed the internet and checked if there was anyone who was already doing this kind of work on a large scale. But to my surprise, no one was involved in doing this sort of work of releasing short book summaries for readers. It struck me that there are so many bestselling books out there, like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich, etc., whose core learnings should reach the public. These books are timeless classics that one should read at least once in their lifetime. Such books are not even covered as a part of the school or college curriculum for students. I also got to know that there are many people who are willing to read these books and buy them too. But more often than not, they are unable to find time to read them. That is because they are already preoccupied with their professional or domestic responsibilities and cannot devote much time to reading. As a result, a lot of books simply end up on their bookshelves. I immediately felt an inner calling to reach out and help such people. And that is what prompted me to take my initial steps towards Mission: Make India Read.

EH: When you started Booklet, you never associated it with any financial gain. Can you shed some light on what led you to share free book summaries with people?

AD: Yes, absolutely! When I started out on the mission, I did so without expecting any financial gain in return. After leading three failed startups, I learned an important lesson: the starting point of any venture should never be money. Though money is a key consideration, it should never be the deciding factor. We should make our key decisions keeping in mind the motive of helping people. The greater good should always be put ahead of personal gain. I believed that money would eventually come as a by-product of my effort. That is why I call myself a “social entrepreneur,” as profit or wealth maximization has never been the primary objective for me.

EH: Can you share some success stories or significant milestones that Mission Make India Read has achieved so far?

AD: There is one memorable experience I would like to recount that still holds a lot of significance in my journey so far. When I started releasing audio summaries, it was an instant hit with people. I received positive responses pouring in from all corners. One fine night, I got a call from a young girl to compliment my voice. Since she was praising my voice so much, I told her in jest that she should also read my summaries at times and not merely listen to them. The reply she gave indeed shook me for a moment. The girl said that she is blind and cannot see or read anything. Her reply left me in a momentary daze. I think that night I slept like the most satisfied person in the world. I never got such satisfaction, even when I had the highest bank balance in my career. At present, though I may not have a fat bank balance, the sense of fulfillment I get from my work is unparalleled and beyond compare. You know, I lost my mother when I was quite young. She donated her eyes after her death. But I believe I am luckier than my mom because somebody can read books through my eyes while I am alive.

EH: In addition to the booklet program, are there any other initiatives you are undertaking in Mission Make India Read?

AD: Yes, as I ventured further in my journey, I realized that the Booklet app is only one of the tools in my larger mission to make India read. I do not stand for the Booklet app or book summaries, per se. I stand for the higher purpose of inculcating reading habits among the people of India. Slowly, my vocabulary and my mindset began to change. And right now, I am not much inclined towards promoting just the Booklet app. The purpose of my life is now to cultivate the habit of reading among the youth of India, which I coin “Mission: Make India Read.” And I have devoted every single day and minute of my life to striving for this cause. I have also left my CA job and practice. Over time, I have learned to keep my wants limited by living a very frugal life. Since Booklet is a free app, there is no recurring source of revenue from it. But of course, there are kindhearted people who reach out and contribute as they align with my vision. 

EH: What challenges have you faced in promoting reading habits in India, and how have you overcome them? 

AD: I think the biggest challenge was that after three failed startups, 70% of my life’s savings were wiped out. Moreover, there was no plan to generate revenue directly from the app. I had decided that I would not feature any ads on my application since ads would distract the readers from reading the real content. If I really stand for reading, and that is my ideology, it would be a betrayal to me as well as my readers if I kept flashing ads every now and then. It would mean that I was deviating from my own values. Subscription fees also would not help, as unfortunately, the majority of people do not think of reading as an investment. People would easily shell out 500 rupees on a pizza, but they would be hesitant to spend even 250 rupees on a book. So, I deduced that “free” was the only way to make India read. I kept the app absolutely free for readers, with no ads, no subscription fees, and no donation button. I think this is the main reason why 50 lakh people have joined the mission as of now. 

EH: You have been an author yourself. You have penned the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers. Can you give some insights on what led you or inspired you to write that book?

AD: As the number of readers started growing, the server costs and cloud rent started shooting up. The server began to crash frequently, and people started complaining that they were unable to operate the app smoothly. So, I thought that it would be better if I had a steady source of revenue beside me. But I was also sure that the source of revenue had to be in alignment with my “why.” I wanted my income to not just spring from any random source. I believe that how we make money is as important as having made money. Everything has to be in sync with our higher purpose. When people started inviting me across the world for talks, crowd interactions, conferences, etc., audience members often shared their challenges with me regarding their reading habits. On hearing them, I realized that even I was not an exception to such challenges. And I got the call that it was my national duty to find and offer solutions to these problems. I soon started experimenting with the idea and began to observe my own reading patterns. I capsuled my learnings into a book, which I titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective Readers,” as a tribute to my favorite author, Stephen Covey. I have not copyrighted my book because the ideas I have conveyed in it are a gift to mankind. Unselfishness is my core human ideal, which I have imbibed from Swami Vivekananda. If I charged for my book or copyrighted it, it would become more of a strategy than an ideology. I just made a simple appeal to my readers worldwide. I told them that since the costs are increasing, the objective behind releasing the book is not to earn profits but to cover costs. I have written the book with the sole purpose of keeping books alive in people’s lives. If readers can afford it, they can purchase it at a pocket-friendly price of INR 300. If they cannot afford it, I will give it to them for free. By doing so, I will make sure the book reaches passionate and needy readers. To my pleasant surprise, I received an overwhelming response from readers across India on the first day of the book’s release itself.

EH: How can individuals or organisations support Mission Make India Read and contribute to the cause?

AD: As I said earlier, it is a social enterprise. My biggest contribution is the promise of reading that I get from all my existing and potential readers. Secondly, people can contribute by buying my book from www.bookletguy.com if it suits their pocket. One can also get involved in the activities of Mission Make India Read. One would simply need an internet connection and a laptop to get started. And they can work from home too. We can all work together to make India read!

EH: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights! We hope your mission inspires more and more people and helps you realize your dream of making India a “nation of readers.”

AD: Thanks a lot for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. Happy reading!

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