The Strand Book Stall in Mumbai has been an icon for readers. Books of all sorts piled everywhere, where readers were encouraged to browse and get into conversations with like-minded people. It was one of my favourite places: a trip to Bombay (as it was called then) was incomplete unless I had been to Strand. There is a sign in Foyle’s, London, that says “Welcome, reader. You are among friends.” It reminded me of Strand—that was exactly the sort of atmosphere that its owner, TN Shanbagh, aimed for.
But the bookshop is going the way of too many others and is closing its doors. Imran Ali Khan, a writer (and a contributor to this blog) and a longtime customer of the Strand, bids farewell to a place which gave him some of the books that have become a part of him.
“When I was five my parents took me to visit Bombay, as it was still called. For the time we were in the city, we lived in one of its great towers, the likes of which I had never seen before. In an attempt to make me feel right at home my parents took me to a bookshop. Tucked away in the by-lanes of this vast city, it was the only bookshop I had seen in my life other than Manney’s in Pune, where we lived at the time. Great towers, this time of books, rose before me, names and titles stacked one over the other. A narrow, seemingly endless staircase led to the children’s section. My parents bought me a children’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays.
“A few years later when we moved to the city, the great towers had names that I would remember, and the streets that coiled around them like giant serpents did too. I knew how to navigate the giant serpents, I knew that when I left the sea behind me and saw Flora Fountain and the Four Seasons I wasn’t far from Strand Book Stall. I went back to Strand, climbed the deep, narrow stairs and read. As time passed, Strand became integral to my survival, my escape from the confusions of chemistry and the madness of mathematics. I no longer needed to climb the stairs to the children’s section because the looming towers of books on the ground floor began to make sense. I had met some of the books before, some were introduced to me, and others I bumped into without meaning to.”
Read the full article on Scroll.in.
Photo: huppypie via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)