All You Can Read

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ALL YOU CAN READ

WORDS BY ANIRUDDHA MAHALE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

Neil Gaiman says a book is a dream that you hold in your hands. Kitab Khana is a repository of such dreams. Nestled in the busy streets of Fort, the bookstore offers the brief moment of respite that every self-proclaimed city rat silently craves – a place where you come to lose and find yourself at the same time. After all, there’s nothing a good book and a great cup of coffee can’t solve. It’s where backpackers find their next trip and children find their first love. A bookshop is a factory of stories, endlessly churning out portals to other worlds – one minute you’re hurtling through space in a sci-fi thriller, the next you’re romancing in Victorian-set England. The bulging bookcases are filled to the brim with classics and contemporaries not only in English, but also Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Urdu. It’s like a breakfast buffet, but all you can read instead of eat!

Kitab Khana has its own classic old world charm – there’s a little café tucked neatly in a corner (rightfully called Food For Thought), for you to peruse old books or have new conversations in. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Enid Blyton novel. Would you like a cupcake with your next book? How about a puff pastry with that mystery novel? Or a latte with that new sensational crime thriller? But I have a book to find, and a slice of pound cake to miss.

In the dying culture of reading books and growing technology, Kitab Khana remains a staunch supporter of the fact that books will always be the primary chronicler of time and love.

A rickety staircase leads to a mezzanine above, stacked with books and hungry readers immersed in their own tales, oblivious to the world. Sometimes they hold discussions and screenings, and if you are really lucky you even get to meet local authors as you browse through the store’s many sections. Things like these are what the reading paparazzi’s dreams are made of. I head down, looking for an old Jhumpa Lahiri favourite to gift to a friend. I check my watch, and realize that I still have time to take a small detour to the late ’90s.

The children’s section is brightly coloured and littered with comfortable beanbags to sit and read on, complemented by dark wooden floors and beautiful beams and joists set up with reading lights. Have I occasionally used said beanbags to read a book? Yes.

Have I ignored the angry stares of countless children waiting to read their books as I read mine? Yes. But that’s life. I flick through Archie comics.

The owners say that Kitab Khana is your home away from home, run by a team of voracious book-lovers who are always ready to help, making recommendations and offering to hold on to favourites for you. They believe in creating an environment that enriches the reading experience. That’s what sets the store apart. In the dying culture of reading books and growing technology, Kitab Khana remains a staunch supporter of the fact that books will always be the primary chronicler of time and love. After all, batteries die out. Books don’t. It’s a classic love story.

Which is why it’s no surprise that people don’t expect meet-cutes at bookstores anymore – here you find love in the books, not out of it. For that there’s Tinder. But then again, there’s no swiping left with the right book. There’s that initial moment of trepidation as you search for it aisle by aisle, and then you find it – hiding behind a new edition of the thesaurus.

Congratulations! You have a new match! What does it smell like? Fresh vanilla, and a beautiful childhood.

I open up the book, and read.

Kitab Khana, Somaiya Bhavan, 45/47 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6170 2276