Books around the corner

How two small spaces in Mumbai reinvented the idea of a reading room and borrowing books from a library
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First Published: Fri, Nov 16 2012. 04 46 PM IST
Sarrah Dashti, three years and four months, is a regular at mCubed. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Sarrah Dashti, three years and four months, is a regular at mCubed. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Updated: Fri, Nov 16 2012. 05 40 PM IST
My thorny marriage with the Kindle makes mCubed enticing. Like an affair with an old lover, it is comforting and thrilling at the same time. It is a rediscovery of the pleasure of touching old books, and meeting others who feel as you do about an author. You can recognize each other at once. There’s a sense of camaraderie and joy in connecting with, say, an Alice Munro lover or a Naipaul hater. No solitary immersion in a downloaded collection can match that.
The airy library and reading room next to the Bandra Gymkhana on one of Bandra’s leafy lanes began as a children’s library last year. Last month, it added the adult section, which has a reading loft—straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.
Vibha Kamat, Sonal Bimal and Vaishali Shinde, Bandra-ites and bibliophiles, were in search of a small space for a library. They had the books and the support, and they had the resources to raise the minimal amount required to start one. This space opened up because the owner of the property, Gladys Rebello, sold it to builders on the condition that the ground floor would have a library, and rented it out to the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal, a Marathi cultural organization. “In a reading room, children take an interest in reading. It is fun because other children are reading in the same space too. And borrowing books attaches a sense of responsibility; parents have told us they are more careful about the books they borrow from here than the ones they own,” Kamat says.
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Founders Vibha Kamat, Sonal Bimal and Sharmila Kamat from the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Bimal says that readings, workshops and screenings, in which children from Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (BMC) schools, from NGOs such as Akanksha and Navjot participate—the library reserves some seats for children from BMC schools in their workshops—attract more children than the library itself, but after they visit, they want to come back.
There are other reasons why mCubed is popular in Bandra (Kamat says members from other areas in the city are few, and those who are, visit infrequently). Sarrah Dashti, three years and four months, goes to bed at 7 in the evening. Her mother was in a dilemma: By the time the sun goes down, and she can go to the park, it is Sarrah’s dinner time. Sarrah now loves mCubed. When we visited, she was peering over her favourites with glee—reading to herself, and walking around the room with a book in hand.
Kamat, Bimal and Shinde have got authors to write in to the readers at mCubed. In his letter, Kiran Nagarkar compares the library to a magic lamp in a short, hilarious take on an Arabian Nights story set in Mumbai. Roddy Doyle writes about his childhood in Ireland, when he used to visit a library which had many cackling seagulls hovering over it when it rained. It’s as if the seagulls told him not to go in. Don’t listen to the seagulls if they are flying over your library, he says, they are just jealous because they can’t read books and discover the wonderful worlds that you can.
MCubed started with a capital of around Rs.9 lakh. People donated generously. Mattresses, tables, bookshelves and computers came from friends and book lovers. Now, mCubed has 899 members in three membership schemes. The adults section, which is an eclectic collection of around 3,000 titles—I spotted Joseph Anton among other new titles—is yet to catch on.
But the books, they have not stopped coming.
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Bidisha Basu and Utsa Shome, owners of the cafe. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
• • • • • • • • • •
Around 20km from mCubed, in another shaded corner of Mumbai, Utsa Shome, 35, and his wife, Bidisha Basu, 32, started Leaping Windows six months ago. It is a comic book library that has Frank Miller as well as Amar Chitra Katha in a cavernous basement.
I live in this neighbourhood and frequenting the café for lazy evenings has better acquainted me with Bollywood conversation. Leaping Windows is also a café which serves basic sandwiches, pastries and muffins, tea and coffee, and in the few months of its existence, has become a hub for film folk.
“Many people come to the café and then get introduced to the graphic novels,” says Shome. Shome believes the comics geek is cool, and aspirational.
He was a lawyer and Basu taught English in Japan, where she used to visit manga comic cafés. They were living in the neighbourhood when Ryzyn, a book store and library which stood at the spot, announced its closing sale. At the same ridiculous price, you could buy any book you wanted. “It was serendipity. I was already running Leaping Windows as an online library which delivered comics to your doorstep. The next step was a physical space. This corner was just beautiful,” says Shome, who almost convinced me, a literary fiction junkie, to make comics a part of my life, over tea. Perhaps I will, his library is a great resource for comic books. The reading room floor is comfortably cushioned to sit on. It has around 2,500 titles, and 450 members.
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Leaping Windows in Versova, Andheri West has around 2,500 titles and 450 members. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The couple started with Rs.10 lakh. The food and furniture are no frills. “We cut costs in everything except in the quality of the books. Comic books readers have legendary loyalty to a certain series or a writer. So we get a lot of requests from members. We have to constantly update the collection,” says Shome.
Like mCubed, Leaping Windows is successful because it taps into the tactile, genial and social experience of reading in a library. They are thriving not on nostalgia, but on the inimitable pleasure of loving a story and an author together. On certain afternoons, Leaping Windows has united comic geeks from Lonavla, Colaba, Pune and Versova.
In this neighbourhood of audition rooms and plastic surgeons, may the geekdom grow.
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First Published: Fri, Nov 16 2012. 04 46 PM IST
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