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Mumbai’s die-hard booksellers

By April 23, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

Meet two men who have made their living through the written word for decades


Kasi Viswanathan, Durai Book House, Matunga

As one enters the second-hand bookstore nestled on the periphery of King’s Circle, the scent of old tomes fills the senses. Opening any book at Durai Book House, can take anyone down nostalgia lane triggered by the scent emitted from the musty, old and wrinkled pages.

Apart from telling us stories, these books hold tales of their own, as each withered page hold within memories – whether it’s in the form of a stain, a hint of a fingerprint or pressed leaf from years ago. A third generation bookseller, 53-year-old Kasi Viswanathan is at home surrounded by his literary wares. “These walls [of books] make me feel safer than any concrete cement wall ever could,” said Mr Viswanathan, who has been selling books on the street for 30 years. The books range from guilty pleasures like Mills and Boons, Fifty Shades Of Grey and the evergreen Enid Blytons. Contemporary titles include teenyboppers’ favourite The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. For classics’ lovers, there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain and Jane Austen. Many have notes in the margins and underlined portions.

Mr Viswanathan, who hasn’t studied beyond the ninth standard, believes it is important to know books in order to sell books. “Blindly selling does not work. You should make the book your best friend and learn everything about it.”

Sourcing most of its books from his readers, Mr Viswanathan’s biggest surprise was getting a book that was signed by his grandfather. “The book is now in my home. The world is a really small place,” he chuckled.

Rajendra Chandel, Oriental Book House, Fort

The second-hand bookstall located at historic Hutatma Chowk, Fort has books that have travelled all over the city. With rare books on display and hundreds more hoarded in a passageway in no particular order, readers can take the help of the tall, quiet man clad in trousers and a tucked-in shirt, 44 year-old Rajendra Chandel who knows exactly where the books that they desire, are. Mr. Chandel has been selling books at the Oriental House Book Stall since the last 25 years, while the bookstall is around 45 years old.

He says his major source of all kinds of literary tomes are really readers who no longer have space in their Mumbai homes to store titles that they have already read, “Most of my books come from our readers,” he says.

A Matunga resident, Mr Chandel spends 11 hours every day at his Fort shop and takes pride in doing his literary homework. “If a reader is a stranger to the thriller genre and wants to read books in that area, I have enough knowledge to ask them to [look] for Jeffrey Archer or perhaps if they would want to explore the horror genre, I always point them towards Stephen King,” he says. Mr Chandel gets this information from his neighbouring stalls as well as by conversing with readers about their most preferred genres and authors. “I am actually not a literature enthusiast, but if a reader asks me if I have a particular book from an author, I will easily be able to hunt it down and give it to them with my eyes closed. The spark in their eyes and the huge smile on their faces as the book is placed in their hand, is priceless,” Mr Chandel says. Predictably, weekends are the busiest days of the week for Mr Chandel, and his neighbours.

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