‘Book Lady of Dubai’ celebrates third anniversary of Booktopia – Information

Chennai-born Malar Vizhi Balaji instills the love for reading among children, as her signature bookstore chain expands in her adopted homeland

Published: Sat 26 Nov 2022, 12:36 PM

Last updated: Sat 26 Nov 2022, 12:41 PM

Malar Vizhi Balaji was a voracious reader since her childhood days in Chennai, India.

She would spend all her school vacations at Connemara Public Library in the city, as her father, a government official, would drop her at the hallowed institution on his way to work and pick her after the day’s work got over.

Her family, including her loving husband, Balaji, has been in the publishing business — largely management books — for the past 28 years and has been operating out of Chennai.

Malar, who holds a computer science engineering and management degree from Anna University in Tamil Nadu, India, along with seven international certifications on leadership coaching from the renowned FranklinCovey in the US, was a published author of five management books, when she took a week-long vacation in Dubai in April 2016.

“It was a love at first sight for me. I instantly took to Dubai and decided to shift my base here. In July, I shifted with my two children and took out a licence to start my own business,” said the charming lady and the corporate coach, who is certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), while reminiscing about those heady days of her decision to move to Dubai.

Her plan couldn’t have been more opportune. In December 2015, the UAE Cabinet declared 2016 as the “Year of Reading”.

She put her children — son Sanjay and daughter Shreya, who are now in Grades 8 and 6, respectively — in a school and started visiting the Dubai Public Library.

“Simultaneously, I wrote content for corporate houses. I participated in the government initiative “Reading Box” to celebrate the Year of Reading at City Walk Mall. I encouraged reading for children, who are aged between five and 12 years. I conducted a few workshops as well, which were about storytelling with memory techniques for parents who have babies up to two years old,” she said.

Soon, she came to be known as by the moniker “Book Lady of Dubai”, which got stuck as her fame travelled far and wide across the emirates.

The schools, too, got interested in her skills of reading books to children and started tapping her skills to promote love for books. Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Oliver Jeffers are the three most popular children book authors, whose works excited her.

Initially, she started with a box of 126 children’s books, which were sourced from India and the UK, and sold at Ripe Market, Baby Bazaar and Flea Market.

“I realised that there was a critical gap in the market and my publishing background came in handy. By March 2017, I was dealing in around 5,000 books, as schools started calling me for carnivals and urging me to hold book fairs. I was not being able to meet the growing demand,” she said.

That was the genesis of Booktopia, a name that traces its origin to her son Sanjay’s brainwave and a portmanteau of books and utopia.

“In retrospect, it was also critical for me to succeed in my enterprise as the business back home was floundering and I was staring at a stark economic crisis with my two children while my husband was in Chennai trying to overcome the downturn,” she said.

In December 2017, Malar put up a kiosk at Festival City Mall, which ran packed for four months as the precursor to the standalone bookstore, Booktopia, which was opened on November 27, 2019, and celebrates its third anniversary today.

“The encouragement that I received from the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and the Dubai Public Library, the messages I received from parents made me open Booktopia as a core bookstore. We don’t sell toys or stationeries,” said the lady, who goes through thousands of titles and keeps in touch with hundreds of publishers every month while her husband takes care of finance and operations.

On any given day in a week, the 2,000-square feet store, which turned cash positive within a year, is buzzing with activity and Malar is always at hand to lend her ears to a precocious child looking to whet his/her reading appetite.

The opening of Booktopia was a momentous event.

“I had put all my investments in it. Besides, I had borrowed from my friends as well. But there was divine intervention on the day we opened the store. Strangers to the tune of 200 started milling around who offered us all kinds of assistance from buying chairs to cushions,” she added as her business has grown exponentially since those baby steps and now has a team of 26 efficient staff members.


In two years, she went on to open another store at Festival Plaza Mall and now plans are afoot open one more in Burjuman and expand to Abu Dhabi as well.

Malar’s meticulous planning helped her tide over the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

“In 2020, we were booked for 154 book fairs in schools when the pandemic struck. Fortunately, online was the only platform and mybooktopia.com became an overnight rage. Books are an essential business, and we were allowed to open for two hours daily even during the lockdown restrictions. We were doing 100 orders a day that helped me to sustain,” she added.

The “Book Lady of Dubai” received the Golden Visa from the Dubai Government for her stellar work to promote reading among children.

As her business booms, she is charting her own course, including the art of giving such as donate 10,000 books a year to libraries in developing and least developed countries in Asia and Africa.

“I read at least 20 hours a month for children for free to promote reading as a past time. I’m looking at publishing books on children’s emotions and behavioural pattern on mindfulness and wellness and also be a mentor to young authors. I’m also launching my own imprint, Blossom Books, next year, where 16 books will be published in the first phase,” she added.

Happy reading with Booktopia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *