How Mumbai bookseller forced off streets runs business from Chembur home
Mohammed Afzal Anzari at his Chembur home. Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Mohammed Afzal Ansari is practically a bloodhound among booksellers, knowing where to sniff out the best lot in town. “You know that when the Parsis sell their books to the raddiwala, it will be a really good collection to pick from,” says Ansari.
The 57-year-old, who in his lifetime has welcomed and bid goodbye to more than 20,000 books, has learnt the art of survival in a time when the book business, as hard copies, is a strained one. Up until February this year, he used to have a pavement stall dealing in second-hand books. After being evicted by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officials, Ansari now runs his business from his sister’s home, in Chembur, where he is sought out by his loyal pool of customers.
Afzal recounts his college days, while studying BCom at KJ Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce. “I hated studying. I would roam Fort, going to the second-hand book stalls by the roadside and to Strand,” he says, adding, “I love the cogent arguments of non-fiction.”
While he made money in the stock markets, he never deliberated over what career to have. It was books, and only books, all the way.
Earlier, Afzal sold books on an online platform, called http://ift.tt/2uSed5C. It got him a substantial clientele but closed down eight years ago. Forced into unemployment, Afzal turned to the pavement of King’s Circle. “When people used to come near my pile, they would wonder who the owner was. I would be standing right beside them, but they would have no clue I was the owner. You see, people think that pavement shop owners can’t be wearing neatly ironed, crisp clothes,” he says. Among the books that he has sold, Afzal is proud of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, and a rare edition on the sewage system of Mumbai.
Earlier this year, the BMC forced his shop off the pavement. While this was not the first time this had happened, Afzal chose not to beseech the BMC anymore. The reason has little to do with logistics and more with change of heart. “I think I will close down this business soon. Last week, I sold 200 kg worth books. Where is the space to keep so much at home?” he says. Then, he fondly looks at two shelves stacked with books and continues, “My friends know that this is not the first time I have said this.”
These days, at his sister’s home, Afzal’s phone keeps buzzing with calls from raddiwalas informing him about rare books, or a customer’s WhatsApp message making an enquiry. Consumed by books, Afzal has had little time to consider marriage. “I have lived the life of a vagabond,” he says, quietly.
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