It can be a little tricky trying to locate Underground Bookhouse. Not that complicated to get close to it, as Taj Mahal Tea House near Mount Mary Steps is known. After two rights, one left and then some more we reached our summit.
Aqui Thami and Himanshu S at the bookstore. Pics/Sameer Markande
Once there, we walked by a lane beside the tea house, and entered the apartment looking for the bookstore. We were told that it is located in one of the garages but entering an apartment, and knocking and peeping around for garages turned out to be a slightly uneasy exercise. But when we found it, we realised it was worth it. A quaint little place blocked on all sides but turned into a window to the world. On one side of the room are stacked books collected over the years, brought from sellers from the street and on the other are self-published works.
Art by the creators and their friends on display. Pic/Dipanjan Sinha
And no, not your usual fare. On one side, we begin with, ABC of Anarchy by Brian Heagney, then a few self-published titles — Drop Out, a book that urges you to see mindless consumerism for what it is; Understanding The State Art, a book that examines the forces that determine what art has to be like — and then some art work that breaks away from the representation of the Joker as the villain.
Indside the bookstore
The other side is a tad scattered in its selection but remains true to readability and quality. The entire collection is of books of value. It is as if you have found the keys to an old attic of a passionate reader from long ago and found jewels in yellowing pages. There is Roald Dahl, Harper Lee, Irvina Welsh, Ayn Rand beside Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein, (that would be fun), Salman Rushdie and a pile of Lonely Planet editions on different countries.
The library-cum-bookstore has been created by activists and artists, Himanshu S and Aqui Thami of the Bombay Underground collective. They also run the Dharavi Art Room, a non-profit that works on several community projects focusing on women and children using the medium of art and photography.
Thami says that the selection is on the basis of text that inspires thinking. “Beautiful or insightful reads that can be passed on from people to people, and from one generation to the next; not bestsellers that don’t mean anything,” she says, sorting a fresh bunch of books that she has brought for the space. “When the booksellers were shooed away from the streets of Churchgate, two years ago, we picked up as many books we could. We want to make this space accessible to all people. Most of the children we work with in Dharavi will not be allowed access or be comfortable in many fancy bookstores in the city,” she points out. This space, which will act as an info store, will provide easy access to all to books, she says. Explaining the meaning of info-store, she says that the space will be used for events that match ethos of the organisation. “We will invite interesting people for interactions. The sessions can be attended by a few people only as this is a small space but they will be more personalised. To fund the endeavour, they would also host pop-ups and classes of “anything that you can teach.”
On: 3 pm to 9 pm (weekdays), 12 noon to 9 pm (weekends)
At: Garage No 5, Luisa Apartments, behind Taj Mahal Tea House, St John Baptist Road, Bandra (W).