A little over a decade ago, secondhand Indrajals were available everywhere in Bombay—on broken pavements, in circulating libraries, and at old paper marts. Well, they still are but you will have to look long and hard and if you are lucky you might just come away with a few near-mint, dog-eared and yellowed issues for anywhere between Rs 30 to Rs 80 apiece (around 60 cents to $1.65). They are worth the money considering that some of these comics are up for sale on auction sites at obscene bid amounts starting from Rs 400 ($8) to Rs 50,000 ($1,021) and more.
But, comic book collectors and aficionados don’t usually sell; they hoard until they are old and ready to pass on their carefully nurtured “wealth” to the next generation. This is true of all pursuits, serious and pastime, be it stamps, coins, music albums, picture postcards or model ships.
Coming back to the city’s vanishing comic book haunts, the stretch of pavement between Churchgate station and Hutatma Chowk (or Flora Fountain) in the central business district of south Bombay used to be a most lucrative place for all kinds of books and comics. No one returned empty-handed. You cultivated friendships with a handful of sellers who, over a period of time, knew your wish list better than you. So impressive was their knowledge of books that they might as well be employed as librarians.
The footpath was home to dozens of book sellers for dozens of years until one day the civic administration drove them out to clear the pathway for office goers. Some years later I managed to trace four of the book vendors and they were operating from different locations in the city; they told me business had never been the same since they were forced to move out. They didn’t know where the rest of the tribe was. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the richest civic body in India, promised an alternate site in south Bombay but is yet to give them one.
With the Churchgate-Fountain stretch out of bounds for comic book lovers, the city’s only remaining secondhand literary haunt is the pavement around Maheshwari Udyan (King’s Circle Garden) in central Bombay, which has been spared the broom. If you don’t find Indrajal here then try the local library and the old paper mart. You might get lucky. And if you do, don’t tell no one.