A Reader's Paradise On Mumbai's Book Street

Flora Fountain | ©Aswin Kumar/Flickr
Flora Fountain | ©Aswin Kumar/Flickr
Photo of Aditi Mukund
11 February 2016

At 10am every day, students, office goers, and late morning joggers — their eyes otherwise glued to their watches — pause at the busy, five-way intersection that encircles Flora Fountain. Bright blue plastic sheets are removed, revealing stacks and stacks of books, dwarfing those near them. The sellers settle down and begin calling out to passersby, much like vendors in a market.

Fondly called ‘Book Street’ by patrons, these book stalls span an entire pavement on one side of Flora Fountain. ‘Stacks’ is an understatement; these are entire walls of books. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, academic, original copies, second hand (‘pre-loved,’ if you prefer)… there was even a bored seller thumbing Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History.

Stalls at book street | ©Aditi Mukund

Perhaps the rarity of some of these books is what makes book lovers flock to the stalls. Both the rarest classics and modern bestsellers are available at Book Street. It is refreshing to come across sellers who are acquainted with the books they’re selling. Spew out names like Dostoevsky, Sartre, and Salinger, and they’ll return with several tomes, while simultaneously asking you if you’d be interested in Pasternak, Steinbeck, or Camus.

Another feature is the price point; it’s almost guilt-inducing. Take, for example, a copy of Orwell Remembered — a biography of George Orwell. It is probably extinct in regular bookstores like Crossword or Landmark, and if you do manage to find an imported edition online, its price alone (excluding shipping and delivery costs) can burn a Rs.2000-sized hole in your pocket.

It was available on Book Street for Rs.150!

Stalls at book street | ©Aditi Mukund

For a book lover who is concerned about buying a book, unsure whether or not he’ll like it, Book Street has an answer. Upon returning a book you’ve previously bought, the seller returns 75% of the price you paid.

The length of the pavement comprises several stalls, each individually owned by people who are part of the same association. Around 2000 shoppers stop by daily. Mr. Rajender Jaiswal, who owns the second stall, cannot even recall the number of years he has spent on Book Street. He has sold books to people from all walks of life — countless volumes of Freakonomics to office-goers, mammoth literature guides to students, academic exam preparation books to graduates, John Green’s books to giggling adolescents, and Fifty Shades of Grey to stoic, middle-aged women.

‘People who love books have no particular background,’ he says. The books are sourced from different places, mainly from bookstores that want to get rid of old stock. Book Street receives these books almost daily, and they replace the ones that have been sold. How the sellers keep track of the flow of books is a mystery.

Stalls at book street | ©Aditi Mukund

To an inexperienced eye, this stretch of pavement is a panoply of books amidst the heat and noise of a bustling city. Inside the stall, however, customers tune out the blaring traffic and focus on picking up book after book until their hands are full, reading synopses and losing themselves in a world of ink and pages; then, the silence that exists is akin to that of a thousand libraries.

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