Today, let’s talk about the literary aspect of multifaceted Mumbai. Radiating a very special sort of romance, this charming city has long been a bottomless source of inspiration to generations of authors, both Indian and foreign alike. Here are a few literary landmarks in Mumbai that could be of interest to avid readers and literature enthusiasts.
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The Kipling Bungalow
Nestled among the greens of J.J. Institute of Applied Art campus, this cosy bungalow is believed to be a birthplace of world famous writer Rudyard Kipling, mostly known for his collection of short stories “The Jungle Book” and adventure novel “Kim”. Bearing a metal sign with the inscription “Rudyard Kipling, son of Lockwood Kipling, first principal of Sir J. J. School of Art, was born here on 30.12.1865”, this place could be a major attraction for tourists from all over the globe, but the local authorities’ intention of turning the cottage into a Kipling Museum is yet to be implemented. Nevertheless, the bluish-green bungalow does have literary value and is definitely worth visiting if you enjoy the works of Rudyard Kipling – a talented journalist, short story writer, novelist and poet.
Address: Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Art campus, Dr Dadabhai Naoroji Rd, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001
David Sassoon Library
Founded in 1847 and named the leader of the Jewish community in Mumbai, David Sassoon library and reading room is one of the oldest libraries in the city. Constructed in Gothic Revival architectural style, which is so typical for this part of South Mumbai, this intricate building in Colaba inevitably catches the eyes of passerby. Visitors are greeted by the marble stone bust of David Sassoon at the entrance. The library houses a rich collection of rare books, and there is a lovely garden to make one’s reading experience an exceedingly pleasant one.
You may also like: 3 Mumbai Museums You Don’t Want to Miss
Address: 152, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Off David Sassoon Library Marg, opposite Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001
The Royal Alfred Sailors Home
Apart from historical and architectural value, Royal Alfred Sailors Home (now the Mumbai Police Headquarters) also boasts a considerable significance among the literary landmarks in Mumbai. In 1880s, Polish-born English writer Joseph Conrad stayed here before leaving for London on the clipper Nascissus, later immortalized in his first marine novel The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’.
Asiatic Society of Mumbai Town Hall
Located in the Fort area of South Mumbai, the beautiful Neoclassical building of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai Town Hall houses a number of establishments, including the State Central Library and a museum. The most fascinating thing about this place is that it’s home to one of the only two surviving copies of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” – a precious manuscript dating back to the 14th century. Don’t ask me how it ended up in India, but fact is fact – an invaluable historic and literary relic is kept within the walls of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai Town Hall. Apart from that, the library has over a hundred thousand books and ancient manuscripts, with a great many of them being classified as rare and precious. For more information, check out their website.
The elegant library building is often used as a location for pre-wedding photoshoots. It’s also featured in countless Bollywood movies. Aldous Huxley, the author of the famous dystopian novel “Brave New World”, was not impressed by the peculiar Indo-Saracenic architecture of Mumbai, but the elegant Neoclassical building of Asiatic Society of Mumbai Town Hall didn’t leave him indifferent: “long and low, with its flight of steps, its central pediment, its Doric colonnade, it has an air of calm and quiet decency. Among so many architectural cads and pretentious bounders, it’s almost the only gentleman.”
Address: Town Hall, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road Horniman Circle, near RBI, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400023
“It was a dirty, smelly, overcrowded place where the floors were slippery with animal ooze and vegetable waste, where the cavernous hall of meat was dark and forbidding, with huge, wicked-looking meat hooks hanging from the ceiling…”
This is how an Indian born Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry described Mumbai’s Crawford market in his novel “Such a Long Journey”. I myself used to find this place rather intimidating, with its noises and bustles being extraordinarily intense even for a busy city like Mumbai. But over the years I’ve developed a strong liking for this market with its special charm of an eastern bazaar where one can buy everything under the sun.
This cafe was mentioned a lot in “Shantaram”, an extremely popular autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts. The book depicts a life and adventures of an Australian drug addict and bank robber who escapes from prison and ends up in the slums of Bombay. Apart from Leopold cafe, Roberts mentions a great many other landmarks of Mumbai, including the Flora Fountain, Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal hotel and so on.
Address: Opp Olympia Coffee House, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba Causeway, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001
These are only a few literary landmarks in Mumbai I was fortunate to visit in person. Perhaps I’ll keep adding places to the list as I expand my horizons where Mumbai-inspired novels and short stories are concerned. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with Indian authors, so I’m yet to discover the flavour of their narration. But perhaps it would be worthwhile to check these Mumbai-centered books:
Breathless in Bombay by Murzban F. Shroff
Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra
The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
Lost flamingos of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
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