Retail book chains have been steadily losing ground to e-tailers. The recent face-off between Crossword and Rupa publishers over the exclusive deal awarded by the latter to Flipkart for Chetan Bhagat’s last novel only proves the extent of the pressure.
The brick and mortar survival strategy involves shrinking the space for books to free up shelves for games, toys and mobile accessories. At Crossword Juhu, men’s undergarments and socks from Sweden have been doggedly pushing the book shelves away from our field of vision.
The good news, though, is in the form of a few good standalone bookstores that have held their own against the e-commerce juggernaut. Yes, sometimes operating out of the unlikeliest venues and often walking the commercial tightrope to stay afloat in the age of the Kindle and incredible online discounts.
We decided to comb Mumbai city to pick the few places where you can still breathe in the air heavy with stories waiting to be discovered. Our suggestion: reclaim them before they too disappear from the city’s cultural map.
The revamped book store in Juhu sits atop a shop that calls itself Pagli. But let not that put you off. Walk up the black and brown stairway to the first floor and you will find yourself in a chic and cheerful European style store, flooded in daylight.
The collection is contemporary, eclectic, well organised and the staff extremely helpful – they will even get you that extra strong cappuccino while you cosy up with a book of your choice. Everything here is meant to please the eye: the white interiors with black highlights, the bird cage-shaped coffee bar, the dainty tables and chairs offering unencumbered views of the swish neighbourhood, and the black boards with earnest testimonials. We only wish it supported more indie publishers as well. And we totally dig the jazz music in the background.
Thanks to its location – in the heart of SoBo’s busy tourist and office district – and its old-school vibe, Kitab Khana is now a must-visit for first-timers to the city and commands a loyal fan following among SoBo-iites. That they are serious about their books only is evident from the fact that the display here is exactly how you’d expect in a library, with nothing else to distract you.
It is easy to lose yourself in the walls of books that rise from ground level and go up to the second. Especially when the staff members are ready to help you out with sometimes the oddest requests. Yes, they will even tell you how many print runs a title has had till date.
The little café – Food For Thought – does not encourage random walk-ins. But it serves some nice pasta and cakes to go with the mood set by the book in your hand.
When the country’s largest bookstore in the basement of the Palladium Mall shut down due to “seepage problems” it broke our hearts. The promoters of the mall have had no room for another bookstore in the swish shopping destination and hotel complex since then.
It thus came as a surprise when word first got around of Trilogy, which came up almost next door. This dappled little bookshop in Raghuvanshi Mills complex sits surrounded by stores that peddle carpets from Persia, chandeliers from Belgium and red velvet Ottomans to the nouveau riche. But once inside, you are transported to a world of books, where aspiring poets and scholars meet to exchange notes on their calling.
A collection that covers everything from art, poetry and philosophy to mythology and does not follow any fads is actually curated by the founders, Ahalya and Meethil Momaya, who also run a library consultancy, The Eternal Library. We like the store’s reverential approach towards the threatened species of the serious reader. Knowledgeable staff and some invigorating sessions on a variety of subjects have been getting it the much needed word of mouth and footfall required to survive.
We have something against a bookstore that puts up a website that is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors and introduces itself as a store “with a grand entrance lobby.” But Title Waves in Bandra makes up for its unscholarly sales pitch with its sheer sprawl.
While the girth may remind you of the Landmark store in Palladium Mall that shut down some time ago, the surprisingly inclusive collection and the festive ambiance here is unabashedly commercial. There are better chances of running into one of the Khan brothers from Galaxy Apartments launching a book here than of meeting a discerning booklover who wants nothing more than to disappear behind the pages of his or her favourite book.
Is this the Chetan Bhagat or Amish Tripathi of bookstores? Well, as long as it holds out to the e-commerce giants, we are not complaining.
Elsewhere in the city
The cult of Leaping Windows, which is also a library, is Versova’s worst-kept secret, but one zealously guarded by its fans. True, the juicy ribs in the chef’s special sauce is also a hit with the likes of Sunny Leone, but the little library of graphic novels, cartoons and Manga in its “dungeon” is what draws the a different breed of people. It’s also a great place to hang out with media and advertising professionals in their pyjamas sipping coffee and blowing smoke rings.
Mcubed in Bandra (Maharashtra Mitra Mandal Library) is where you could let your kids discover the joys of reading. The library has an impressive collection of book for children in all age groups, with comfortable chairs and friendly, unobtrusive but caring staff on the standby. The library is now open for adults as well, and we are told it is quickly turning out to be a great place for some parent-kids bonding over books and interactive story-telling and activity sessions. Seems unreal, right?
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