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Polymath

When Sharad Paul told his friends he was opening a bookshop they wondered how he would find the time. Like the shelves of his Auckland store Baci, Sharad’s life is full of variety and packed to the rafters.

Words Sophie Bond

He’s a surgeon and novelist with a masters degree in law, university teaching positions here and in Australia, two bookshops, a position on the UNES CO commission and a family. That’s not all. The youthful 43-year-old has a passion for literacy and runs a short-story competition to encourage Australian and New Zealand children in their reading and writing.

His own bookstore seems to be a natural extension of Sharad’s interests. “I have always hung out in bookstores, but I always wanted a place where I could have a coffee, a glass of wine and read a book.”

Sharad despairs about the three-year literacy gap between pupils of low- and high-decile primary schools in New Zealand. “I wondered how we could address it, and thought if someone could do creative writing for pleasure they could improve their reading and writing skills.”

Proceeds from Baci fund an annual short-story competition that awards $5,000 worth of library books to the winning pupil’s school. Sharad spends Thursday mornings visiting low-decile schools delivering what he hopes will be a life-changing, inspirational message to reach for the stars. “I want them to be able to dare to dream. All I’m hoping to do is visit enough schools so that one kid’s life is changed.

“You have to encourage people, and in a country like New Zealand we behave like a small village and we often stifle talent.”

Sharad spent his childhood in India, where his parents were doing medical mission work. “My first love was physics but I think people thought I had a special talent for medicine. I kind of fell into it.” Fall he may have, but medicine seems to have been a good fit. Sharad now runs a skin cancer surgical practice in Auckland giving 3,000 free skin checks a year.

Another love is writing, something he has done since he was young. “Writing seriously came after my medical graduation. I wrote short stories here and there and then my novel was published in 2007.”

That novel is Cool Cut, published by Picador in 2007. It began life as a short story, but when readers began asking him what had happened to the characters he decided to flesh it out and send it off. Within weeks Picador UK had bought it and Sharad now has a second book with the publisher.

His own bookstore seems to be a natural extension of Sharad’s interests. “I have always hung out in bookstores, but I always wanted a place where I could have a coffee, a glass of wine and read a book.” He was involved in every aspect of creating Baci, from designing the logo and decor to ordering the books, a task he still does weekly.

It’s a slick operation. His recipe for a cosy cafe/bookstore with tasty offerings for mouth and mind won Top Shop in the food and beverage category of the 2008 New Zealand Retail Awards. The winning formula has been reproduced in Brisbane, where the second Baci opened in 2008. ‘A’ for Auckland and ‘B’ for Brisbane; it’s a business plan with an alphabetical bent and when his timepressed life allows for it, Sharad will look for a ‘C’.

He admits he’s always busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Irrespective of your beliefs, this is your one chance in your form. You live once, so do what you are passionate about.”

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