The last trip I made to Mumbai, it was focused on bookstores. The idea wasn’t to buy too many books (that is never the idea, but it always happens). It was like you know how people want to go to Siddhi Vinayak, Haji Ali, Mahalakshmi, all of which I have already seen; for a book lover, bookstores become one of those sense of attractions. I looked up whatever information that was available on Google (especially Quora) and made a curated list. Mumbai is such a big city that you cannot finish everything of anything. I was determined to make the best out of two days- Sunday and Monday, that I had in hands.
Of course, this trip included other interesting places (apart from bookstores) such as the walk around Colaba, Kalaghoda, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mani Bhavan and Starbucks (because coffee is an essential ingredient for stimulated literary and philosophical conversations).
This piece is not just about the bookstores but the experience that goes within while you explore them. If you don’t like spoilers, please don’t read further (disclaimer). If you are not going to ever see these places or want to have a literary tour irrespectively while you still plan to go and discover these and more places yourself, you are the right person to read this one.
The BookStores that were on My List:
- Kitab Khana, MG Road
- Strand Book Stall, Horniman Circle Gardens (definitely sounds like horny men but luckily found not a single one)
- Smokers corner, Kala Ghoda (Found no smokers here, and Kala Ghoda is a street statue of a black horse made in the memory of Prince of Whales’ horse)
- Oxford Bookstore, Marine Drive
- Mani Bhavan, Laburnum Road
- Trilogy, Worli
- Victoria Book Center and Library, Mahim
- N Bookstore, Bandra
- Crossword, Bandra
I obviously could not finish all. I was at a dear friend’s (a literal literary companion) place in Goregaon. And we had to travel to Kalaghoda which is at another end of the city. I had time until 4:30 after which I was to be transported to this other dear friend’s place. Luckily it was Sunday so this worked out in an hour. One thing you must be careful of is that you let a person with knowledge of Mumbai-roads, train, traffic, with timings. Here’s all I could do (bookstores specifically):
Kitab Khana, Fort, Mumbai
This bookstore is one of the oldest in Mumbai. Being in the fort area, its architecture is grand and overwhelming. For a book lover, this place is soothing. There are hundreds of books and titles (first hand books), the managers are courteous and polite and always willing to help you out. They also have a cute play area with children book section, for people who come with kids. They also have a cafe of their own. We began with this place and I was smiling from cheek to cheek by the end of it.
Strand Book Stall, Horniman Gardens Circle
Pretty close by from Kitab Khana, Strand Bookstore was a small, cosy bookstore on a quiet Mumbai alley (or perhaps it was quieter because of Sunday). And what more can one wish when a bookstore has super-sale going on. We spent around 1.5 hours here. It’s not even a huge place but there were so many books to check out- some old, some second hand, some new. Again, the hosts were warm (and a little sleepy due to Sunday afternoon) and helping.
I was based at another dear friend’s place in Prabhadevi. And there were just too many places to cover. So looking at the map of Mumbai, the day was divided into two halves. First I’d go north- finish Mahim and Bandra bookstores. And then post lunch, I’d do Mani Bhavan and Smokers Corner, Kalaghoda. I had to skip Crossword Bandra and Trilogy Worli for the lack of time and also these were proper/new/non-personal-interaction-based-mechanical bookstores- so neither really old nor having a collection second-hand books. I shifted them to the next trip or the next perhaps.My love for second-hand books is eternal for these reasons: The idea that so many people have read the same book, put their hands on it, have their memories left on it- makes me wanting to be a part of the same loop. Also sometimes you get hand-written notes from books!
Like this one time, I found a note that a person wrote to a book librarian thanking him for his recommendation, and how this particular book helped him in his bad phase.
Victoria Book Centre, Mahim (Since 1948)
What I loved about this bookstore is the owner. Not to mention that the bookstore (And circulating library) is running since 1948! I was looking for some poetry anathologies but could not find any on my own. The owner was warm, courteous and interested in helping me out. He went in his warehouse nearby to look if there as something interesting. And after some good 15 minutes, came back with some books with his store helper- not poetry- but interesting old books. Some of these books were priced 20-30-50Rs! Together, with the support of his two helpers, we began looking at this collection of about 150 books- one after another. By the end of 4 shortlisted books, he had somehow understood my taste and then he started separating the books that he thought I’d like. I was awestruck by his accuracy!
He almost blushed when I told him I had read about his bookstore on Google and that his place was one of the most recommended. We parted with a note that I’ll come back in a few months and he’ll keep the books of my choice separately because now, ‘I know your choice.’
Happy Book Stall, Bandra
Found by chance when N Book Store wasn’t anywhere to be seen and Google Maps blatantly lied to me, I found this chivalrous old man at the counter of Happy Book Stall who has worked at this place for 40 years of his life. He happily assisted me through the place and recommended some titles, and the same thing happened, he too realised what kind of choice I had. He had all first-hand paperbacks, the book collection is decent, like a regular crossword. But the man is a gem and if you are lucky- he would tell you stories of the past.
While asking if I need a glass of cold water, and offering me a chair to sit and browse books, he won my heart. He talks how the new bookstores such as ‘Crossword’ and ‘Landmark’ are just businesses. They don’t care about their customers.
He recommends many books but two of them very strongly. One of them is ‘Ravan and Eddie’ by a Mumbaikar. He says it is an interesting tale of friendship. His love for local writers shows in his gesture of keeping some of the books self-published by young authors. He shows these books separately, also mentioning a word or two about the authors. In them, one of the books is of a man who’s gotten two heart attacks already, and got his books published during the same period. I decided to buy Ravan and Eddie. Another suggestion was ‘Chatterley’s Lover’ by DH Lawrence. A book that was banned in its own time. He says they were summoned for importing this book. At that point of time, it was Rs. 100. He says that amount was equal to thousands of rupees at that point of time. He dispassionately talks about how different governments decide on their own discretion, what people should read and what not.
Mani Bhavan, Laburnum Road (Close to Chowpatty)
The place where Gandhiji used to come for his political discussions in Mumbai has been restored and converted into a library and museum. Found the letter he wrote to Hitler before World War. Mind-numbing.
Smokers’ Corner, Kalaghoda: Was a little underwhelming. It’s definitely a miss. Do Oxford Book Store, Marine Drive instead.
Interesting-Quirky-Precious Books I found during the Trip
Books and bookstores are the biggest attraction of any city. But second-hand bookstores are special- for their vintage value and also if you are lucky, you can get hold of some really old books from 1930s or 1700s for 20 bucks! You must have patience and time.