To those familiar with the business, though these kind of services in India are relatively new, they are no longer unique. There are a couple of other book rental services that also have sprung up in Pune, so then what's special about Tender Leaves? Before I try answering that, I should state an important disclaimer.
Both founders of the service (Sudarshan and Harish) are former colleagues, quizzing cohorts, and good friends of mine; so I'm quite likely to be biased about Tender Leaves. But the association also helps me understand why they are well-placed to offer this service. For instance, both are very passionate about the world of books. Sud knows a lot more about books than most in my circle (no mean feat, given the many quizzers and readers in that social radius). His tastes are wide-ranging (and sometimes off the charts): he is as comfortable talking serious Nabokov as he is discussing riveting Hadley Chase. He writes about and reviews books, and has even translated into English from the original Hindi, a couple of books by popular genre writer Surendra Mohan Pathak. Harish has relatively more plebian tastes, but 'even he' has his authoritative niches: politics and sports , in particular.
Most importantly, both of them love being around books.
Back to the main thread. So why Tender Leaves?
I already have a membership at a reputed city library, and also have access to my company's library. I occasionally buy books, but physical space and costs are always at odds with the temptation of owning a book, so I only spend on the ones I 'must absolutely have'. Tender Leaves' catalogue seems well-stocked, especially in the areas of my interest (which are General Fiction, Comics, Non-Fiction, Humour, Biographies, Innovation etc.). I also occasionally venture into Sports and Indian Politics. TL's collection allows me to extend my reading range. Some of the TL books that I've issued (it's been about 3 months since I joined):
"A Case of Exploding Mangoes", several Asterix books, a graphic novel based on Terry Pratchett's first two books, a book on Indian cricket in the 60s and 70s by Raju Bharatan, "Scoop!" by Kuldip Nayyar, Amit Varma's "My Friend Sancho", a collection of Jerry Seinfelds's material, and "SWITCH" (a book on making change happen).
Among my three current books is Ruskin Bond's "When Darkness Falls" (I took Sud's advice!)
Which brings me to the next and perhaps most significant point. Even if you have access to a great library, how do you choose what to read? There are some who are incredibly well-informed about books, and know all about the classics right down to the latest bestsellers. But most of us are not like them. At best, we have our areas of interest, and we stick to them. But how do you venture beyond them?
TL has something known as Must-Read Lists - recommendations on various themes by people who can claim a certain authority or years of interest in that area. Want to read something about cinema? Writer and reviewer Jai Arjun Singh has a list. Planning a journey from your armchair? Shamanth's got a fabulous list of books to take you around the world. There's Business, Humour, and even Swedish Crime! I expect that, as the service grows, TL will invite more readers to contribute these kinds of lists (I hope I will have one soon ;-) )
Or you can ignore these know-it-alls and make your own pick ;-)
(Incidentally, TL has been setting up drop-boxes around the city; thanks to these, I came to know of two new eating places that they recommend. Which explains the first part of this post's heading.)
"More than just a library"
That's what TL wants to be, and they've got it in bold letters as their tag-line. They have already begun proving this. Last year, they began working with a Pune school in the Teach for India campaign. They have promised book readings and quizzes. I look forward to these and a lot more.
I didn't talk much about the actual delivery service, the pricing plans, and the other commercial aspects. The service is just as you'd expect (and would demand), the prices are for you to consider (you could even write to TL and see if there are any special offers available), and the website is still evolving. But a new venture is like a little plant and needs a lot of "tender loving care". The service comes from two passionate creators, and you can see that in what they've done so far.
By the time I come around to considering a renewal of my subscription, I will be looking at my choices purely from the value it gives me, and for the price it does so. But for now, I have no qualms in whole-heartedly recommending Tender Leaves. Voracious reader or occasional book-flirt, give it a shot, I say!