As a new bride in a new city, I was quite lost.
Mumbai of the single days that were spent on street shopping and gol gappas and movies and partying was quite a far throw from Mumbai I discovered when I moved here after my wedding. In those days just as one is acclimatizing to a new home, new family, new room-mate (!), new dog – the city too looked new to me.
In the midst of all this newness I ached for something familiar. One day while passing in the car towards our office in Fort I caught a fleeting glimpse of a sign – STRAND book stall. I remembered my father telling me about this shop when he started his career in Mumbai, back in the late 1950s and how he kept visiting it through the years.
Quietly I trudged out to find the shop among the maze like roads in Fort. It happened to be just a corner away from the office. I entered it and it instantly reminded me of all the old fashioned bookshops I have been to where there shelves may not be swanky but the books are – where the people of the shop knew about the books and don’t have to refer to some computerized catalogue for authors they had never heard of. I felt at home. It was just so comfortable and familiar though I was in there for the first time! Very quickly it became a favourite haunt and my go-to space for comfort and discovery of so many interesting books and authors. So many of my treasures are from there.
Until we moved office to Bandra Kurla Complex – very cool and hep alright but no bookshop around the corner! L I consoled myself that we cant have everything at the same time. Yet whenever I could not find a book, I was still calling up Strand and they would find it! The last one I bought there was a while ago – a beautiful biography of David Lean, put together by his wife Sandra Lean.
Now having returned to the city after six months away shooting my film, I just heard that the Strand Book Stall is closing down. https://scroll.in/video/869831/video-mumbai-s-strand-book-stall-is-closing-we-take-a-trip-down-memory-lane The video beautifully explains the blurred categories of the bookshop and its distinct charm. Somewhere within, this news moves me so much – it signals the closing down of an era.
I remembered how as a student in Pune, one of the iconic bookshops was shutting down and I made it there on the last evening just before its closing time. I was on another upper floor when closing time came and went. I heard some noises but was too busy on my knees looking for books marked 70% off! Finally when I made my way down the stairs, it was just the unsmiling owner and me. Everyone else had left and the shop had officially closed. When I took him my books he gestured to leave them on the counter as he was handling something else. I did so and quietly drifted towards the shelves greedy to find some more. We’d exchange glances at each other as I wondered if I had any more time before he closed down. And perhaps he wondered how long I would stay and therefore delay the final closing time. In that silence I continued to search and he continued to write his accounts. Finally when I had another armful I went to his counter. He patiently looked through each one, made me a bill, took my payment and packed the books. I watched for any sign of emotion and the man held on as stoic as ever. He looked through his glasses as he handed the books over.
“You come here often, don’t you?” I nodded as I gathered the books and smiled. No sign of a smile. As I struggled with the many books he got off his chair and walked to the door. He held the door open for me and I stepped out thanking him. He said “thank you”.
I crossed the road and flagged down an autorickshaw. As we moved I saw him watch me leaning in through the glass door. I’ll never forget that sight because I saw a glimpse of the many emotions he possibly felt.
This time during the film shoot in Nilgiris, during shot one of our senior actors closed a glass door and looked through the door exactly the same way. In an instant I was catapulted back to that autorickshaw and the bookshop man. That is how it works – memory is simply emotion imprinted on moments.
Tomorrow when Strand Book Stall closes down I am sure there will be far more people there. I shall go to pick up some books as tribute to that space and those people who made it feel like home. I will miss it.