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Mumbaiwale: A bestseller in Bandra

Hill Road gem: An underground library with 10,500 books, run by a chemist who ought to be in a book too

mumbai Updated: Apr 14, 2018 00:51 IST
Rachel Lopez
Gharda libarary at Bandra in Mumbai.
Gharda libarary at Bandra in Mumbai.(Satish Bate/HT Photo)

I almost missed it. Walking down Hill Road, Bandra, where you can spend more in a restaurant than at the fashion stalls outside it, there are enough distractions. I nearly glossed over a billboard advertising a lecture that took place the day before.

But the venue seemed interesting – a library right on Hill Road, a few steps from Elco Arcade. You’re forgiven if you didn’t know about it either. The Bai Ratanbai Gharda Memorial Library is in the basement of Gharda House, a glass-fronted, nondescript building obscured by hawkers and kiosks.

THE PLACE

Walk in and you’ll realise it’s a treat for book lovers. The 10-year-old library is air-conditioned, spotless (none of the dustiness you’d associate with book collections), and contains more than 10,500 titles. Bharati Banerjee, the librarian, says between 600 and 800 new books are added annually.

There are thrillers, bestsellers, literary classics and the usual get-smart, grow-rich, expand-business books. But if you want to let your mind wander, this is the place. I found art and linguistics books (finally!), huge sections on medicine and world history (more than World Wars!), the complete Lonely Planet series (hurrah!), volumes of poetry and hard-to-find guides to world religion. There are biographies of everyone from Bill Clinton, Richard Wagner and Mao to Kiran Bedi, Nehru and Tilak.

THE MAN

The library has been set up by a man whose own story would make great reading. Dr Keki Gharda, 88-year-old scientist and Padma Shri, grew up in Bandra, attended St Stanislaus school down the street and is one of India’s brightest minds in chemistry.

He started off humbly, creating chemical reagents at home and supplying them to Elphinstone College, where he studied. His first job was manufacturing blue dyes in his 2,000 square-foot rented shed in Vakola in 1964. But something about an imported dye, phthalogen brilliant blue, popularly called German Blue, and used in school uniforms, gave him an idea. Gharda realised it was possible not only recreate the dye, but make it stronger. The new version came to be called Gharda Blue, and, if you’ll pardon the pun, fast caught on.

His company moved to agrochemicals in the 1970s, developing a faster, safer and cheaper way to produce a herbicide than a Swiss company. The method is now called the Indian Process – and the company is one of the largest producers of the chemical.

Think of him when you look at an Apple product. Gharda developed a polymer that keeps iPhones from overheating. Rare for a chemicals manufacturer, he’s not patented any of his unique processes, sharing it with the world.

The library honours his mother, who loved reading. It has 250 members, which is good news for you. The books you want will likely be available, you can browse in peace, and it’s a good reason to be distracted on Hill Road.

CHECK IT OUT

WHERE: Bai Ratanbai Gharda Memorial Library, Gharda House, Hill Road, near Elco Arcade, Bandra (W)

TIMINGS: Monday-Saturday 10 am to 8 pm.

MEMBERSHIP: Rs 1,000 annually (plus a refundable deposit of Rs 500). There are discounts for students and senior citizens.

To read other Mumbaiwale columns, visit www.hindustantimes.com/mumbaiwale

rachel.lopez@htlive.com