Jorge Luis Borges once said: “I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library.” A library or a thoughtful bookstore can be almost a space just like a paradise. I have never been to paradise myself but in my imagination this is what I perceive it to be; a place where I can spend substantial time browsing, reading passages, making notes and occasionally inhaling that intoxicating smell of paper.
If one has gone around walking in Fort area, near Churchgate and Flora Fountain in the past, they’ll know that this area used to be dotted with multiple street book vendors. They stocked old and new (pirated) copies. You would stumble on large stacks of Sidney Sheldons and Mills & Boons. But if you looked more closely and browsed more patiently, there was a chance you will be holding an old copy of good book too. During recent times, these book vendors were cleared when Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in an effort to clean sidewalks encroachment. It feels like some intrinsic characteristic of old Bombay has been stripped away and failed to compensate with anything equal or better at the same time.
Recently, Mumbai is seeing a rise (and fall too) in chains of commercial bookstores to more honestly curated bookstores. Kitabkhana is one such effort and has been quite popular amongst the book lovers. Kitabkhana, housed in one of the heritage buildings of Fort area on M.G.Road maintains the charm and laidback characteristics of old times.
The bookstore maintains all the heritage features of wrought iron balusters, handrail and decorative columns. Dark wood panelling matches the wood colour of bookshelves which look un-fussy and purely functional. The kids section of the bookstore has brightly coloured bean bags and that is where experimentation with colours ends. Thankfully. It works well for the purpose. The bookstore also houses a mezzanine level and is more generous in seating at this level.
Commercial bookstores usually do not provide very lavish and comfortable seating arrangements to avoid books browsers to camp in their facility. For reading pleasure for long hours, you are expected to head to a comfortable and functional library. Unfortunately, Mumbai lacks a good public library facility. Just like any other good public space, missing valuable libraries are not even a consideration in this commercially booming real estate market.
If one has to believe Salman Rushdie’s words in how lives are made then Mumbai’s books facilities need to bolster with more rigour and determination and look beyond office buildings and high-end residential construction. And to quote Rushdie’s words: “This is how lives are made. But not only in this way, also by dog-eared books discovered accidently at home.”
Images courtesy of Kitabkhana