Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Books in Mumbai April 13, 2011

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:32 pm
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Reading in the shadow...

There are several ways to buy books in Mumbai. There are street hawkers everywhere, they sell their books vertically or horizontally off the street. I always find it difficult to go past, always thinking one of them might have something exiting I didn’t know existed…. But most of the time they sell the same books. Booker prize winners are plenty among them.

Outdoor book market at Flora Fountain.

There is an outdoor book market at Flora Fountain, in the Fort area, South Mumbai. Insiders tell me the book market has lost its glory, and that may well be. Something tells me the market has been much bigger, and more of an attraction. The market has been there “always” and it’s not legal, of course. But it’s a nice spot anyway, and Fort is a great area. The books are stacked in piles and piles, it’s not easy to search through them without help. One could of course easily find the same books in a book store, save something really old perhaps – or a real gem… – but the heaps of books have a certain attraction. I’m not able to pass no matter how faded it is!

Of course....

On the last day of my visit I decided to pay the book market a visit, I was looking for books about Mumbai in particular. And everybody was eager to help, and I did in fact find the one book a book store told me was sold out from the publisher; Mumbai; City of Gold by Gillian Tindall. And I found many more books, but my suitcase was already 21 kg. But I was given a little stool so that I could leaf through a great book about The Maharajas, too heavy – but now on my shopping list for the next visit.

Arches at M. G. Road, these pavements are very welcome on a hot day!

On my way back to Colaba, I strolled down the pavements of M. G Road, under the arches that give you a bit of much-needed shade. And suddenly I became aware of a book store. I went inside, and was very pleased by what I saw. A spacious room with an open first floor. Beautiful interior and shelves, all dark brown. Books laid out on tables. The whole room was screaming, but in a soft voice: buy books……….  A man was constantly dusting the shelves with a big, soft light blue duster. I said to the nice, middle-aged man behind the desk that I couldn’t remember having seen the shop before, even though I can spot a books store miles away and I have walked M. G. Road many times. – We opened just recently, he said proudly, – three months ago. Kitab Khana it was called.

Another favourite in Mumbai: Kitab Khana.

And what’s more… at the back was a nice little cafe. The owner seemed to be everywhere, making sure the guests were well taken care of. Service was impeccable anyway. I had lunch there two days in a row; penne pasta, Pepsi and strong coffe. All tasted great except the Pepsi that tasted…Pepsi. Kitab Khana is on my “must visit again-list”. Definately!

Marine Drive April 10, 2011

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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Marine Drive in all its splendour....

Mumbai feels, most of the time, terribly congested, polluted, noisy, suffocating – words are many to describe the sad parts of this – in my opinion – fantastic city. But there is at least one place one can breathe freely. And that is Marine Drive. It’s a 3 km long boulevard in the south of the city, stretching from Mumbai’s Manhattan; Nariman Point to Malabar Hill, a posh residential area. It is a ‘C’-shaped six-lane concrete road along the coast, which is a natural bay. Real estate prices are among the highest in the world in this area

Family life at Chowpatty beach!

Since I prefer to stay at Suba Palace in the south of Mumbai, Marine Drive always comes as a relief after a long taxi ride from the northern suburbs. Yes, the traffic very often comes to a standstill here as well, but at least one can watch the Arabian sea on the right hand side. But at one point the taxi has to turn left and hit into the ‘jungle’ once more.

The highlight of Marine Drive is the beautiful promenade along the road where many  Mumbaikars take in a breath of fresh air and view the setting sun. The promenade is lined with palm trees. At the northern end of Marine Drive is Chowpatty Beach. A friend of mine had heard of Chowpatty and wondered if she should bring her bathing suit. Well, rather not. I wouldn’t dare lower my body into the polluted water, neither would I think it suitable to appear in a bathing suit. But Chowpatty is good for observing Indian family life on a Sunday afternoon.

Young lovers enjoying the solitude...

The stretch from Colaba to Marine Drive is walkable, just head for Churchgate train station. I have found a good pizzeria on a corner, so that I can eat well and at the same time watch Marine Drive. Outside the pizzeria a young woman with a child resides, I don’t really think it’s her child, beside – I have seen her with different ones. She begs from the pavement, sometimes she walks out in the street to beg among the cars. I think she is given left overs from the pizzeria. At least I hope so.

Living off the streets...

Marine Drive is lovely during night, when all the street lamps resemble a string of pearls and forms “The Queen’s Necklace”.  The boulevard is full of young couples, maybe their one and only escape from congested living conditions and extended families.

The Queen's necklace.


Chimanlals April 7, 2011

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:58 pm
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Every second time I go to Mumbai I visit Chimanlals, the paper store. The very first time together with my friend Joan, and I thought we would never get there. The taxi was criss-crossing the area and we even phoned the shop to get directions. Little did I know at that time, that I could have walked from my hotel in Colaba. Because Chimanlals can be found in the Fort area, just off one of the big streets; Dr. D. N. Road. But I hardly knew Fort then. Now it’s a favourite.

If you’re interested in paper, Chimanlals fulfills all your dreams…. The store has been around for many years. Though formally incorporated as a Private Limited Company in 1974 it started their designs and manufacturing in the late fifties. We are of course talking about hand made paper, and the designs reflect to a great extent Indian art and culture. At the same time, I use many of the cards for Christmas. Chimanlals are exporting to many European countries as well as the USA.

India = colours….

The shop is quite small, and yes – you would have to know where it is because neither the door nor the sign is very flashy – and there are no other shopfronts are around. There are two rooms. The first room has loads of writing paper and cards on display as well as the cashier; a long desk with two people; one man – I’m not really sure of what kind of role he plays – and a woman who does the work… namely count your purchases and make up the bill.

The second room is filled to the brink. Here we have cards, gift covers, gift wrappers, gift tags, bags, boxes, collapsible baskets, desk organisers, note books…. It’s quite incredibe, really. Most designs are absolutely lovely. Cards are mostly solds in packets of five, and the cards then come in five different colours. Very often the print is in “gold” and what is more suitable for say a Christmas card than a red card with gold ornaments!

Take your pick….

The atmosphere is very calm, people wander around with their little trays where they collect one or many items… To say it’s cheap is an understatement. For a Norwegian wallet this is more or less free! Thus soooo tempting!

After my third visited I realised that Chimanlas doesn’t really come up with new designs too often. As a matter of fact, this time I didn’t find anything new at all. But it was worth the visit, because now I have Christmas cards, tags and wrappings for the coming Christmas.

Chimanlals can be found in A-2 Taj Building in Wallace street.

I visited Chimanlals on a very hot day. I had taken a cab from a shopping mall in Worli, and I had to give the driver all the landmarks given in my guide book. And with the help of many helping Mumbaikars, we eventually reached there – but! the door was closed. …. A young woman outside the shop said; well it IS 31 March today – as if there should ring a million bells in my head. – Taking stock day, she fortunately added. – But we will open at 2 pm. I felt a surge of relief, but realised I had almost two hours to spend in Fort on a very very hot day. But in Mumbai somethings always pops up. I found a brand new bookstore almost just around the corner, with a lovely little cafe. But that’s another story.