Situated at a corner street of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Road, there is a Mumbai’s secret library that houses some of the most rarest novels and books and probably the only library that has babus going to, to read pop fiction. Our correspondent Vrushali Chitre visited the library known as Smokers Corner. And no, it isn’t a smoker’s only enclave but a haven for book lovers. Looking for Martha Stewart’s unofficial bio or an encyclopaedia on teddy bears? Head to Suleiman Botawala’s Smoker’s Corner on Sir PM Road. And no, it isn’t a ‘smoker’s only’ enclave but a place where you can find some of the rarest of novels both fiction and non fiction. If not for the book-filled kiosks that line the entrance to Botawala Chambers, Smoker’s Corner will pass off as any another spacious landing that leads into one of the many Art Deco-esque buildings on Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Road. Pointing to an elevated corner on the ground floor, current owner Zubair Botawala recalls that his father, Suleiman Botawala started this store as a library with 10 books. The botawala family owns the building and so Zubair’s father decided to spread his passion from this corner. Many would wonder why the name was given as Smoker’s Corner. Zubair goes ahead to explain that in the early days there was a shop that used to sell tobacco here. Those days, ships from across the world would dock at the harbour for 7 to 8 days. Mariners frequented the place as it stocked tobacco, and cigars and pipes from different countries. In 1965, it shut down but loyalists of Smoker’s Corner’s only grew in number, thanks to Botawala Sr.’s legendary goodwill. Journalists, custom officers, RBI officers would flock this bookstore as early as 8.30 am to chat with Suleiman over a cuppa and pore over books related to their field or titles that weren’t readily available elsewhere. Zubairs speaks of a Parsi gentleman who used to visit the library every Saturday and used to talk for hours with his father over books. The drop-dead prices of these rare titles are baffling. His father’s excellent networking with book dealers from the city and beyond, is obvious by the variety on display. Smoker’s Corner doesn’t believe in hiking prices. You’ll spot rare hardbounds, paperbacks, comics, international travel magazines, pocket-sized series, starting from as low as 10 bucks. While Zubair isn’t a reader, he is glad his son is. For The Botawalas, reading matters, and no matter what, Zubair says that he will never let this place go away. With cameraperson Satish Garud, Vrushali Chitre for NMTV News.
August 25, 2019