Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bombay's Book Stores - Old and New

Today, when I saw Dr Frank Conlon at the Durbar Hall at the Asiatic Society, I remembered where I had seen him last. It was at the St Xavier’s College in February 2007 where he was giving a lecture on The Tramways of Mumbai. This time, he was talking about “Bombay’s Book Sellers and scholars”, a talk organized by The Asiatic Literary Society.

Dr Frank has written many Bombay centric articles including "Dining Out In Bombay", "Industrialization and the Housing Problem in Bombay, 1850-1940” and the book, "A caste in a changing world : the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans, 1700-1935".

He first came to Mumbai in November 1965 and frequented many book stores and libraries. He remembers book stores like Taraporewala and Sons and New Book Company on D.N. Road, Thackers and Chetana on Rampart Row, Alavi Book Depot and Kokil on Mohammed Ali Road, N.M. Tripathi on Princess Street, New and Second Hand book store at Kalbadevi, Popular Book Depot on Lamington Road and Bombay Book Depot at Prarthana Samaj and the Strand Book Stall in Fort.

He says that the above stores were started by people who had genuine appreciation of books. Real books shops are an ‘endangered’ species today and various compulsions have closed down many including Popular, Bombay, Thackers, Alavi and Kokil.

He added that today’s bookstores like Crossword might be fancy, have sofas, carpets, air-conditioners and coffee shops but the people working there have ‘no engagement with the product’ and going to such stores is not the same for those who feel and have a special affection for books.

Strand Book Stall

He spoke about some of the people behind the stores. Everyone knows about Mr. Shanbhag of the Strand Books Store. He didn’t go into the details but here is an extract from my post on the Strand Book Festival. “It all started when Mr. T. N. Shanbhag (recipient of the Padmashri in 2003) put up a little stall which sold books at a discount. It was located near the erstwhile Strand Cinema (thus the name) in Colaba and opened on November 20, 1949 and was moved in 1954 to its present location. Mr. Shanbhag was telling me all this and added that he was the first one in the world to sell a book at a discount (that too of 20%)”

Popular Book Depot

He then spoke about the Popular Book Depot and G.R. Bhatkal and his son Sadanand. The Bhatkals were seen as the pioneers of the book and publishing business.

I have had the good fortune of knowing Sadanand kaka as I call him and remember going to the green painted Popular Book Depot on Lamington Road as a kid. The store had a long counter and perpendicular to it, at the back were rows of shelves full of thousands of books. I remember going past these rows to the back and climbing onto a steep ladder to go to Sadanand kaka’s office.

Popular book depot was started by Sadanand Bhatkal’s father Shri Ganesh Bhatkal in 1924. Eminent jurist , the late Nani Palkhiwala in a speech rendered for a G.R. Bhatkal Memorial lecture in September 1995, says that Shri Ganesh Bhatkal helped him in three inestimable ways. He used to allow Mr. Palkhiwala to treat Popular as a public library. During his career as an arts student(1936-1942), he was allowed to sit and browse through books at the shop for hours together and also take home books ‘on approval basis’. He also remembers that he would at times continue reading even after the front door had been closed and later coming out by the back door.

I was truly saddened when Popular closed down in the eighties and so did Bombay Book depot which was a leading Marathi book shop. In fact, Sadanand kaka’s brother Ramdas kaka that ran Popular Prakashan, a publishing house was present for Dr Conlon's lecture.

Dr Conlon ended his lecture by mentioning scholars and institutions that have made a big difference in researching various subjects on Mumbai and feels that today there is an upsurge on the number of people who want to research on Mumbai.

Stores that are still around

Mumbai has various books stores where you can satiate your literary appetite. The new age book stores like Crossword with their flagship store at Kemps Corner and many branches all over,Granth at Goregaon and Juhu, Oxford at Churchgate and the newly opened Landmark at Andheri. All these and the various neighbourhood book stores

There are niche book stores like Marine Sports Books Store at Dadar for sports books, Computer Book Shop on D.N. Road for computer books, Sterling Book Shop at V.T. for management books,Gandhi Book Centre at Nana Chowk for books on Gandhiji,Hindi Granth Karyalaya at C.P. Tank for Hindi books , Ideal book depot at Dadar and Majestic at Girgaum for Marathi books, Lakhani Book Depot at Girgaum for text books and Bhavan's Book stall at Chowpatty and Andheri for Religion,History and Phlosophy.

Single books stores which have been around for a long time like Danai at Khar(which also has opened a branch at the Taj Land's end), Nalanda in the Taj Mahal Hotel at the Gateway of India, Shankars outside Cafe Mondegar on Colaba Causeway and Causeway Book Store which sell books left behind by foreign tourists at over-rated prices.

And the old age ones like the Strand , off P.M. Road, FBH ( Fort Books Distributors) at V.T. who supply a lot of books to all the Mumbai book stores and regularly hold exhibitions all over the city. You would get new and second hand books at the New and Second hand books shop at Metro, Smokers Corner at the Ballard Estate end of P.M. Road and of course the road side book-sellers around Fountain, Churchgate, King's Circle, Bandra and at 'raddiwalas' all over the city. All these stores would always give you discounts on the books.

But in the sea of the Crosswords, Oxfords, Granths and Landmarks … the Strand remains my favorite.


Anu said...

I enjoyed reading this post of yours... A booklover myself, I have haunted these bookstalls myself, and enjoyed reading about them. Thanks...

Abodh said...

thanks .. pity the old stores are going going gone..

Mads said...

can you tell me where exactly it is? I never found it XD

Damitr Mazanov said...

I have put on some of these Mumbai bookstores on map in my post here:

Though I have to put in a lot of other shops which your post has