Literary Review

Mumbai: Strand Book Stall

A shrine left untouched by a modernising city.

A shrine left untouched by a modernising city.

P.M. Shenvi sits before a wooden desk lined with newspaper clippings about the place he has been working at for the last 48 years. One has a picture of T.N. Shanbhag receiving the Padma Shri in. His contribution? Propagating a love for books with his iconic Strand Book Stall.

Shanbhag first set up Strand in 1949 within the premises of Strand Cinema in South Mumbai from which it borrows its name. In 1953, it shifted to its current location in the packed Fort area where, decades later, it still remains like a shrine left untouched by a modernising city.

It has been six years since the man who made bookselling an art passed away, but his legacy continues to delight book lovers with his mission and vision intact in its current owner Vidya Virkar, his daughter, and his employees. It is no surprise then that even today the Strand manages to get about150-200 visitors a day.

There is something comforting and nostalgic about Strand — choc-a-bloc with wooden shelves lined with books from ceiling to floor minus any signs of modern retail frills including a conspicuous absence of computers. With over 15,000 books covering all categories, and no computerisation, employees still rely on memory and practice to locate a book.

The air is scented with the smell of books new and old — all discounted. Every day since it opened, Strand offers discounts on books year round which is because of its founder’s love for books and his desire to propagate that love. “Mr. Shanbhag came up the hard way. He wanted to share his love for books with everyone and money was not a factor,” says Shenvi, now the manager. “He would say ‘We are not selling books but sharing knowledge’.” Shenvi shares anecdotes of Shanbhag giving away books to people who could not afford it in return for only a promise to payback whenever they could.

Shanbhag’s love for books and a keen interest in his customers has rubbed off on his employees too. The friendliness of its staff is one of the factors that make Strand so very dear to the people. Its patrons include former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Vajpayee, industrialists JRD Tata, Dhirubai Ambani, Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji, cartoonist RK Laxman and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar. “We get all sorts of customers, including a 90-year-old doctor who has been our customer for the last 55 years. He cannot read now but he just likes visiting,” says Shenvi.

At a time when retailers are fighting to survive the competition from e-commerce sites that offer home delivery and heavy discounts, Strand stands its ground. It is, after all, not just any bookstore, but a legacy.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 12:26:13 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/madhumitha-srinivasan-on-the-iconic-strand-book-stall/article7429579.ece