The life of a bookstore
Mumbai's bookstores are walking a tightrope, and each time one of them shutters or has to move, it acts as a telling reminder of a city that needs to be more kind to literary spaces
What are the odds of stepping into a space only to learn that it was going to be their last day of operation? Something similar happened to yours truly after we walked into Trilogy bookstore at Raghuvanshi Mills last weekend, only to learn from its owners that the place was shutting down. We had to collect our thoughts rather quickly since there was an impending workshop with a bunch of impatient children that had to be done. Almost immediately though, there was some good news that lifted our spirits. The bookstore was to relocate to Bandra in a couple of months. Phew.
Later, as we sipped on chai with the owners — Ahilya Naidu and Meethil Momaya — two young, bright entrepreneurs — they told us that the city's land sharks in the area were reason for them to fold up and move someplace less stressful. We were instantly reminded of the underlying theme from the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks-starrer You've Got Mail, except that in this case, it wasn't another, bigger bookstore but the city's real estate bullies that were causing them a big, endless headache. After the hows and whys were explained, we realised that it made sense to move after all. But then again, we, like most of their loyal patrons, were bound to miss its tranquil and leafy character.
A large glass façade opening up to a swathe of green (how rare is that!) would greet readers as they stepped in; neatly arranged shelves sported an eclectic collection of titles while a healthy list of books formed part of its library. The faux wooden flooring gave it a warm, welcoming vibe. The sound of hushed giggles of kids as they pored over their fave reads is a frame that we'll always treasure of the place. Whenever we've headed here — be it to pick up a few titles or to hold a workshop — a sense of slow-mo (a rare vibe in this city) took over.
As we discussed the future of the store with its owners, their intent to continue with the idea and curation was heartwarming. It was a theme that worked with their loyal readers, and they didn't wish to mess with it. Of course, they wouldn't get the exact template of the bookstore's character in its first avatar, but then again, how many of us can wish for this in a city where space is worth its weight in platinum?
The bookstore was crossing the sea link to set up shop in Bandra. An already buzzing neighbourhood for bibliophiles, we told ourselves, but doesn't every bookstore have its own identity? The owners were confident that their members wouldn't be affected by the change in address. Their positive approach was reassuring. Bombay needs its bookstores.
We flashed back to the time when T Shanbhag's iconic Strand Book Stall had shuttered, and how the entire city went into mourning. No bookstore has been able to take its place, no? Likewise, with the many secondhand sellers who were discarded from their vantage points in Fort all those years ago. While spaces like Kitabkhana, Leaping Windows, Title Waves and Wayword & Wise are moving in the right direction, it's a number that's woefully inadequate when you compare it with say, swish cafes or high-street fashion brands that are opening with lightning pace in the city.
We are looking forward to the second innings of Trilogy. It's a positive step in a city that's posed a constant challenge to places for the literary arts, where children and adults alike can enjoy the company of books and celebrate its many delights. Vincent Van Gogh had famously written — 'Bookstores always remind me that there are good things in this world'. Bombay sure needs more of this good stuff.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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