February 29, 2016
Images by Preksha Sharma and Wayword & Wise.
Three months ago a new bookstore, Wayword & Wise (W&W), was added to the list of indies in Mumbai. I was invited for its opening during an across-the-counter chat at a cafe. Even the Google maps didn’t know where or whether the place was. When I mentioned this to Atul Sud, the owner, he grinned and said, “We know good books. Spreading a word, that we don’t know.” Sud is a fifty-something investment banker and the owner of W&W.
A flight of stairs at a corner of W&W take us up to Sud’s finance office. The quietness of the bookshop is replaced by a constant chattering of keyboards and printers. A couple years ago Sud made some rules for his life. One of which was: passion will take precedence over financial gains; and it should be passion enough to be pursued for rest of the life. And good books, for Sud, were a passion enough.
In these times when Indie bookstores are nearing extinction, and readers are spoilt on a steady diet of home delivery, Wayword & Wise may not seem a wise endeavour. But Sud is confident. “To run a bookstore in this city, we need only a minuscule percentage of people who enjoy quality books,” he says. W&W’s strength is its curated list of titles, and to match that, an exclusive experience of tasteful decor with the best coffee and wine, which are to come soon at the bookstore.
But the reason why I return to this bookstore is because here I can have a conversation, a friendly argument, and get serious recommendations about books and authors. Here I was introduced to Gallic Publishers through Francois Lelord’s Hector series, and to Belgian crime-fiction writer Georges Simenon; here I was introduced to Hesperus Press through Jonas Jonnason.
A few days back when I visited W&W, every single book on New York Times’ 2015 bestsellers list was stacked here. There was Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and Seiobo There Below that a publisher friend argued was a better work of Laszlo Krasznahorkai, the writer of War and War.
A section that has grown in these three months, to my surprise, is the graphic novel and picture book section. My favourite children’s picture books author Oliver Jeffers’ books are neatly stacked in the middle of the rack.Just below were English author Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Mouse books.
“Adults are picking picture books for themselves,” says Virat Chandhok, the manager and curator at the bookstore. Chandhok started his career at Strand Book Stall, once Mumbai’s favourite indie. He knows his books and his readers well, yet the popularity of picture books among his adult readers surprises him.
In three months, he has been closely watching what people are reading. “I have rarely been asked for a discount. For a good book, readers happily pay,” he says. At the graphic novel section Meta Maus and Sarnath Banerjee are side by side. Finally I settle with David Hughes’ The Pillbox, which The Guardian describes as: “every page stranger than the last, every frame more thoroughly infused with horror”.
I read the The Pillbox curled up between the racks of books. It was every bit creepy, I couldn’t dare to take it home.
You can follow Wayward & Wise on Facebook for their upcoming events or drop by the bookstore, the next time you’re in Fort.