Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book haunts: Going, going…not yet gone

The new Title Waves bookstore at Bandra

The friendly neighbourhood circulating libraries—our childhood book haunts—were first to go in the 1980s because of dwindling readers and declining readership.

The libraries were followed by the indispensible roadside book vendors who high-handed officials of the Bombay Municipal Corporation—in a fit of misplaced civic sense—threw out in the 1990s. These two dozen-odd booksellers used to occupy the pavement from Churchgate Station, the first and last destination on the suburban rail network, to Flora Fountain (now Hutatma Chowk) less than a kilometre away, in the central business district of Bombay.

In the mornings you dragged your feet past hundreds and thousands of books and ever so often stooped to pick up a prized title or two missing from your collection. It was the same story on the way back to the station in the evenings: you bought a book before you boarded a train, and read it on your way home. 
They are gone now. 

It was, then, the turn of new and used bookstores which began to close down in the decade of 2000—a frightening trend that continues to this day. The most recent casualty was the century-old New & Secondhand Book Shop in the trading hub of Kalbadevi in South Bombay. You can now buy Bata shoes in there instead.

Not far away, however, another very old bookshop called Smoker's Corner has survived the technology onslaught and continues to operate from the foyer of a four-storey building. The bookstall's highly knowledgeable owner, Suleiman Botawala
, passed away a couple of years ago and his son, Zubair, is now running the show. Smoker's Corner, named after a shop that once sold tobacco at the entrance of the building, imparted a personal touch to both new and used books on sale and those who walked in to buy them. The book stall has been a journalist's haunt for several decades though over the past few years the quality of books has gone down appreciably, which the bespectacled owner once attributed to a lack of discerning readers. Nearly a half of my book collection has come from Smoker's Corner which sells rare paperbacks and hardbounds and comic books at throwaway prices.

Smoker's Corner at the end of Sir P.M. Road in South Bombay.

In the second decade of this century, the new menace (a welcome one in many ways) to the traditional and reliable bookshop is online shopping which has redefined book discounts and home deliveries—and has taken the fun out of browsing and buying books in a bookstore.

Fortunately, there are people who still swear by books as we know them, like the advertising-cum-music duo of Sharon and Elvis Dias who were inspired enough to set up a new bookstore at Bandra, an upmarket suburb. The bookstore is called Title Waves and is spread across a 9,000 sq. ft area. In what is no doubt a smart move, the bookstore has replaced the conventional helpdesk (and ignorant sales staff) with touch-screen computers that enable book lovers to check up on their wish-list of books. May their tribe increase.

You can read all about the new swanky bookstore at and

1 comment:

  1. Can you get me the name of a similar book shop in Chennai? There is always someone hopping across and I have Landmark on my radar - anything else?