It’s true that there are book streets all over India but none rivals the ambiance of the one in Mumbai. Nestled against the backdrop of beautiful Victorian buildings and tall peepal trees the book street in Mumbai is where Vikram Seth jostles for space with William Shakespeare. Who knows what you could find here?
The five-way intersection that encircles Flora Fountain at Churchgate is a treasure for book lovers. Sandwiched between food stalls, footwear vendors and juice stalls sit the book peddlers with their wares neatly stacked according to genres. ‘Stacks’ is an understatement; these are entire walls of books. Fiction, non-fiction, classics, academic, original copies, second hand… there is even a first edition of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
So what makes book lovers flock to the pavements for their books? The rarity of some of these books available here could be one of the reasons. There are all sorts of books here right from the rarest classics to the modern bestsellers. Don’t remember the title of the book you are looking for? Just mention the author and the seller will spew out off the titles. These men are not just acquainted with the books they sell but some of them are also clued in to the genres as well. Spew out names like Dostoevsky, Sartre and Salinger and they’ll return with several piles, while simultaneously asking you if you’d be interested in Pasternak, Steinbeck or Camus.
If you visit on a peaceful Sunday afternoon these streets offer better ambiance than most of the book stores in the city. Where else can you browse through scores of titles under the shade of a peepal tree? There is zero interruption and help is provided only when you ask for it. Just pull a stool and read away.
What’s in store
These bookstalls spilling over onto the pavement carry literary classics, British history, books on politics and even scholarly books. Dinesh Mondal who has been peddling books on the streets for the last 20 years says that teenagers and youngsters enjoy Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer and similar authors while people between 30-50 enjoy reading books management, psychology and self-help books. Of course Chetan Bhagat is an all time favourite. Apart from a fair smattering of current hits and bestsellers of yesteryears there are old copies of Lonely Planets, National Geographic and Orange Penguin Paperbacks. While literature guides and academic exam preparation books are popular with students, Freakonomics is a hit with office-goers. Adolescents come asking for John Green’s books while Fifty Shades of Grey is a revelation to middle-aged women.
There are no pirated versions here but only genuine copies insist the sellers. “We refrain from keeping pirated copies as they come with bad prints and missing pages. It spoils our relationship with our customers,” clarifies Mondal. All the books on sale were used ones, bought from individuals or public libraries. If you are unsure about a book and worried if you will like it or not Book Street has an answer. On returning the book you will be reimbursed 70 per cent of the price you paid. This is one of the reasons the vendors on the street are hardly affected by the onslaught of online book sales. “You can buy books online but can you return the book upon reading? We only keep 30 per cent of the price you paid and return the rest. You could choose to buy another book or walk away with the money,” says Dilip Mahindkar who specialises in architecture and interior design books.
Apart from the mammoth collection (some of these booths stocks over 5,000 titles) there are some rare and vintage pieces like Indrajal comics which date back to the 1960s. “I once sold a Indrajal comic for Rs 5000, the cover price for which was Rs 1.50,” reveals Bhaskar Rao a vendor here.
Books on book street are peddled at 20-60 per cent of the listed publisher’s price. Architecture book from Moshe Safdie which cost Rs 3500 is sold at Rs 2000 here. Coffee table book of portraits by Steve MacCurry originally priced at Rs 1200 is out for grabs at Rs 500. A little bargaining skill may come handy. First editions in top condition with the dust jacket on could be had at throwaway prices. A modern classic such as the 1988 Matilda by Roald Dahl illustrated by Quentin Blake is available at Rs 200 and a hardback copy of A Game Of Thrones by George RR Martin may not cost over Rs 300. Now that’s a deal the Amazons of the world can hardly match.
BY NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR