Mumbai is not a city that prides itself on its intellectualism. Unlike Kolkata, Chennai or even Delhi, the financial capital revels in its business-like attitude to culture – nothing matters unless it is making money. Perhaps that’s why the only bookstores that seem to make money are the ones selling textbooks – Mumbaikars love their degrees (Science & Commerce only, please) and a plethora of colleges see a mushrooming of bookstalls selling textbooks around them.
But even in this intellectual desert, there are some oases of comfort for the lovers of fiction. We will cover a few of them in this write-up.
1. Oxford Bookstore
Nestled in one of the by-lanes near Churchgate Railway station, and not far from the famous business school, Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, is Oxford Bookstore. Housing a good collection of fiction and non-fiction along with a well-stocked children’s section, it is not very large, but makes good use of the space it has. Oxford Bookstore’s Café is popular for its brownies and coffee, and the staff is quite helpful, besides being comfortable with readers spending as much time as they like on the premises.
2. Strand Book Store
At a short walking distance from the iconic Victoria Terminus (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) is Strand Book Store, one of Mumbai’s oldest and most famous landmarks. Set up in 1948 by T. Shanbhag, it has been the mainstay of the city’s booklovers for over seven decades now. This is where the best discounts and the rarest books are to be found and if a book is not available, the store will track it down for you. Of late though, especially since the former owner passed away, Strand is been rumoured to have fallen on hard times. Nonetheless, it remains an integral part of the South Mumbai landscape, and should be enjoyed as long as it is there.
3. Kitaab Khana
The newest entrant on Mumbai’s book-selling scene, Kitaab Khana has a faux-ancient décor and a strictly no-nonsense approach to book-selling. The layout is like a library and the staff is well-informed. A small café and an extensive collection of vernacular language books makes Kitaab Khaana a very strong contender for the title of Mumbai’s premier bookstore.
4. Title Waves
Proclaiming itself as the largest bookstore in Mumbai, Title Waves is located in Bandra, the most posh of Mumbai’s suburbs. Large and airy, with a light-hearted ambience and a broad collection, Title Waves has become the most popular location for book launches by mainstream author in the city. In a way it is the essential ‘Mumbai’ bookstore, very commercial, very glitzy. The staff is not always knowledgeable, but the sheer size of the collection compensates for that. There is even a Di Bella Café for those who don’t mind paying for their coffee beans along with the books.
5. Crossword Book Store, Kemp’s Corner
While Crossword is the most ubiquitous franchise in the city for books, a lot of their branches seem more focussed on selling toys and stationery than books. The branch at Kemp’s Corner, however, is not only large but also well-stocked. Popular with booklovers from all over the city, it often plays host to book signings by India’s elite authors like Amitav Ghosh and Anita Desai’s who have won international acclaim.
Lower Parel’s pride of place is occupied by Trilogy, spread over 2,100 square feet of prime space near Palladium mall. With a beautiful wooden floor and a collection ranging from coffee-tabel books to cult Marathi-language classics, Trilogy has become very popular with the office-going population of the area.
There are other bookshops trying to stem the tide of anti-intellectualism that is taking over the city. From the ancient Majestic Bookstore at Dadar which specialises in Marathi books to the new ‘Wayword and Wise’ in Fort, small and large bookstores are catering to the needs of those who can’t or won’t shop online.
There is certainly a pleasure in browsing through an array of new books, soaking in the smell of fresh coffee beans while a knowledgeable shop assistant chats with you about the authors you love, that shopping online just cannot replace. For that alone, let us look forward to the flourishing of these brave outposts for books in Mumbai!