SUZANNE JENNINGS | 27 MAY, 2015
Ten Bookstores In India
NEW DELHI: You know what they say, “you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books” and for me books equal happiness. One of my favourite things to do when in a new city is to check out local bookstores, and I have stumbled upon some truly amazing finds (such as a church converted into a bookstore in Maastricht, Holland; a glove factory refurbished as a bookstore in Detroit, USA; and Brazenhead Books -- a bookstore that was moved the owner’s apartment after the rent for retail space in Brooklyn skyrocketed).
Quite often I see a friend share a post along the lines of “Most Interesting Bookstores In The World.” I click on this and spend a few delicious minutes living vicariously through the stories and photos of canoes in the middle of a bookstore in Venice, bookstores in Santorini’s charming little white houses, a floating bookstore that travels on a large boat through London’s canals, and other such niceties that make life worth living.
The warm fuzzy feeling of goodness that tingled through me whilst reading such articles was soon replaced by one of despair and frustration. Where in India are these sort of bookstores -- the type where browsing for a book is accompanied by the conjuring up of vivid stories about the store, its owners, its customers and its thoughts?
If there is one thing I know about India is that it is a land of stories, so why did I feel that books and bookstores in modern day India didn’t have a story to tell?
Well, frustration when properly utilised can lead to action, and I spent a few months looking up bookstores across India. There is fundamental truth to the statement that India is a land of stories, and the following bookstores prove just that.
1. Daryaganj, Delhi
I feel like I am cheating because Daryaganj in Delhi is by no means one bookstore. Daryaganj itself is an area in modern Old Delhi and on Sundays is witness to India's largest platform market for magazines and second hand books. The Sunday Book Market or Kitab Bazaar is held every Sunday on street pavements. Established in 1964, the Sunday Book Market today stretches almost for 2 kilometers. An added bonus is that many of the country’s publishing houses are located in the streets nearby, including S. Chand & Co., Prentice Hall India, and Oxford University Press.
Daryaganj Old Book Market, Dariya Ganj, New Delhi, Delhi 110002, India
2. Harmony Bookstore, Varanasi
Harmony Bookstore in Varanasi is on the list for two reasons. The first one if because of the immense feeling of transition that overpowers you as you step inside the calm confines of this little bookstore, temporarily escaping the hustle and bustle of chaos-laden Benaras (and by extension life). The second is the bookstore’s amazing collection. I challenge you to spend 15 minutes in this store and not find 15 books you want to immediately buy. What adds to the experience is the owner’s first hand knowledge of each book in the store’s vast collection. Spend a few quiet hours in this bookstore if you’re ever in Varanasi. You will meet writers, journalists, photographers, Indologists, and travellers from all over the world who will exchange their stories over a cup of hot chai and some biscuits. The owner will chat with you, recommend titles and readily accommodate requests -- including ordering books that are not at that moment available in the store.
Harmony Books: B1/158, Nagwa Rd, Near Assi Ghat, Dumraon Colony, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221005, India
3. College Street, Kolkata
I am cheating again because like The Sunday Book Market, College Street in Kolkata is not a single bookstore. The 1.5 km long street in central Kolkata is home to several bookstores, earning it the nickname Boi Para (Colony of Books). It is the largest second hand book market in the world and largest book market in India. Careful browsing will surely lead to spotting a rare title (or many) and that fact along with the droves of publishers located nearby makes Boi Para a must visit for any book lover.
College Street (Boi Para), Kolkata, India
4. Tusita Bookstore, Manali
One of my favourite things to do in the picturesque Himalayan town of Manali is to grab a coffee and cookie from Dylan’s (pictured above) and browse the collection of nearby bookstore Tusita. The bookstore has a small but excellent collection of books on Buddhism. Make sure to take off your shoes before you enter, and try and approach the owner of the tiny little store for a conversation on folklore, eastern medicine and local history.
Tusita Bookstore, Old Manali, Manali, India
5. The Book Shop, New Delhi
Although Delhi has several excellent bookstores (BahriSons, Midland, CMYK), the aptly titled “Book Shop” in Jor Bagh market is my personal favourite. Perhaps not for the collection of books but for the experience. The Bookshop in Jorbagh opened its doors in 1970 and has become an institution of sorts. The owners will readily order a book that is not available in the collection at no extra cost. If you go often, you will see that the small store has a host of regulars -- they take their time to browse through the tiny shelves and buy a number of books, happily chatting to the person behind the counter as if they’ve known them for years. This is probably what makes the Book Shop a book lover’s dream -- the familiarity and the right kind of hospitality. No one will rush you even as the tiny shop gets cramped. No one will talk to to you unless you want to be talked to -- in which case, the people at the store will make for some of the best conversationists!
6. Smoker’s Corner, Fort, Mumbai
This bookstore relates directly to my contention that India is the land of stories. This shop, at the entrance of Botawala Chambers, would see sailors in transit coming to stock up on cigars and tobacco. As names in India often follow a rule that is predicated on functionality, the shop was rechristened Smoker's Corner in honor of this tradition by proprietor Suleman Botawala who set up a bookshop in its place. Like most bookstores in India, its the experience that makes this shop and not so much the collection, but spend a little time and you will surely find yourself a book that you can’t believe you got your hands on. (Note: Representational image).
Smoker’s Corner, No:7, Botwala Building, P.M. Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai,
7. Literati Book Shop And Cafe, Goa
This picturesque bookstore is located in the owners’ home in South Calangute, where a leafy garden makes for perfect setting as you sip on a steaming cup of coffee and immerse yourself in a book by a Goan author. The bookshop houses new and second hand books, and has a pretty good collection of Indian authors. On select days the cafe cum store hosts events -- usually in the form of book releases, readings, book clubs, movie screenings and other such welcome changes from the party scene Goa is usually associated with.
E/1-282 Gaura Wood, Calangute 403516, India
8. Leaping Windows, Bangalore
If you’re like me and gasp in joy at the thought of starting your day with butter toast, masala chai and a comic book, you must visit this cafe cum comic book library in Bangalore. Run by a husband and wife duo, Leaping Windows boasts of a collection of over 1500 comic book titles.
Leaping Windows: 509, 9th Main 3rd Cross, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar, Bangalore- 560038
9. Kitab Khana, Mumbai
Kitab Khana is situated in a century old building, and that fact would be enough to make this a bookshop worth mentioning. Add to that the bookshop’s collection, the evident passion of owners Amrita and Samir Somaiy, the inviting in-house cafe, and Kitab Khana makes it to my list of bookshops in India that you must visit.
Kitab Khana: Somaiya Bhavan, 45/47 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra - 400001
10. Pagdandi Chai Cafe, Pune
Most cafes that double up as bookstores usually have a less than impressive collection, but not Pagdandi Chai Cafe in Pune. They store books from independent publishers and you’re encouraged to browse (and can rent books and donate copies too). The walls are adorned with artwork by upcoming artists and photographers. Boardgames share shelf space with books, so all in all this place makes for a happy day!
Pagdandi Chai Cafe: Shop No.6, Regent Plaza, Baner Pashan Link Road, Baner, Pune - 411045