Jerry Pinto is the author of many wonderful books. Not entirely for parochial reasons, one of our favourites is Phiss Phuss Boom.
My heart belongs to the independent bookshop and my wallet follows my heart.
I love Kitabkhana at Flora Fountain in the Fort, Mumbai, because it is beautifully designed and carries a whole section of poetry. It is also the place where I meet almost all my friends, many of whom live in the city that is catty-cornered to ours, Thane, because that’s where my city seems to coalesce, in words and writing.
I love the bookshop at Prithvi Theatre, another standalone, because it has a fabulous collection of Hindi poetry, better than any of the Delhi bookshops I frequent. I’ve bought at least fifty collections of Hindi poetry there and keep going back for more.
There’s Bookworm in Bangalore which is a bibliophile’s delight. And in Lucknow, Ram Advani’s magnificent shop in Hazratganj, made a thing of such sophistication by the presence and elegance of its owner.
And then there’s the pop-up bookshops of Walking Bookfairs, which is such a magnificent and quixotic idea, it could only have been born in Orissa.
I am haunted by the dead bookshops of memory: Lotus Book Shop which was run by Virat and open until ten pm. It was the first to stock graphic novels and loads of poetry. There was New and Second-hand Bookstore at Dhobi Talao with an upper story where I bought so many of my Clearing House titles and those beautiful books made by P Lal; Ram Kumar’s stories bound in khadi, for instance which still has pride of place in my collection.
I am haunted by dead bookmen: Mr Shanbhag of Strand Book Stall who would sometimes cut a student a discount on top of a discount on top of a discount so you could take home an Edward Said; and George Ninan who gave the Centre for Education and Documentation (CED, Mumbai) its first home; and Mr Botawalla of Smoker’s Corner, whose favourite line was: “Where’s the charm? Where’s the charm in this business? I offer them Scott Fitzgerald for twenty rupees and still they’re bargaining?”
And here, at last, I must say: the raddhiwallas of my city have always been the unsung heroes of bibliophilia. They function as circulating libraries where young people who can’t buy, borrow and return. But for me, they’re where I go to see what others have rejected. The stone the builders rejected, the Bible says, and the books others have done with often become the cornerstone of my library. When I was sixteen, I saw a dark silver and black spine gleaming in one of them. It was volume 6 of the 1001 Nights, translated by Richard Burton. I bought the lot–all seventeen volumes–with a loan from my family, for seven hundred rupees and still have them, glittering on a shelf behind me.
Other great buys: The Prince and Betty by P G Wodehouse in the Mills and Boon edition; and Maus by Art Spiegelman.
My last visit to a raddhiwalla yielded eleven lovely old Hitkari plates and a J D Robb for my sister to read and a copy of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. This was on a day when all of Mumbai was wet and still because the skies sent down ten days worth of rain, 783 mm.
“Why are you open?” I asked the man who runs Ambika Stores, Mahim.
“Because even today, people must read, no?” he replied.
I was humbled.