Strolling across the fag end of West Mumbai’s Yari Road, an upscale vicinity of Versova, my gaze fell on a smattering of comic-book characters sprayed on the bordering wall of what looked like a pretty decent cafe to hang out for a soirée. Leaping Windows, an interesting place I cajoled my friend into accompanying me to, for a cup of coffee, looked apropos on some fronts. It was a sunny afternoon. So the prospect of a roof and some refreshments already constituted quite a respite. We finally managed to find a vacant table in the en plein air section of the row. The presence of an ashtray gave my friend an impulse to light up his cigarette. Through the wisps, I scanned across to make sense of the surrounding. I could see a bespectacled hipster figure demurely picking up a book from a stack kept athwart our table. As the unsmiling waiter passed by our table, I inquired if we could go indoors to check out more. He curtly obliged. The place stretched beyond the glass-door to an assortment of tables across a spiral staircase that led us to a gorgeous microcosm of the comic-world; spectacle readers would be smitten by.
A library of comic books from all around the world in the floor-to-ceiling shelves flanked by snugly placed teal mattresses and lush de jour graphics plastered across the walls that conjured up a ripe atmosphere for readers. Akin to Alice going down the rabbit hole, we pootled down curiously to check if the limited edition of our favourite Tinkle would be tucked somewhere waiting to kick in our nostalgia. To our surprise, there was a collection of that too.
Tripling up as a pub, cafe and a library, Leaping Windows had us in awe with the conglomeration of comic books that dovetailed well with what our portal stands for.
We spotted Utsa Shome co-owner of the Comics Cafe, nearby who, very obligingly, agreed to speak with us over a cuppa. Affably offering us snacks, he recounted the time he and his wife Bidisha Basu had dreamt up the idea of the comics cafe with a sole objective of elevating the comic-book reading scene.
Driven by their passion and connoisseurship for manga, the duo had started Leaping Windows online as a lending library in June 2010, offering delivery services across the city. Rueing over the flatlining readership of comic books over the years in India, he told us how they broadened the spectrum to sustain the model. There was a calm sincerity in his voice as he broodily recalled the days when he and his wife would even wash dishes, buy drinks for the cafe and move books from their home all the way to the basement of the Versova building through the initial rough and tumble years of its inception.
The germination of this idea casts itself back to the days when his wife Bidisha Basu taught English in Japan where she chanced upon manga cafes dedicated to comics. What started initially as an online comic book library eventually took shape in the form of Leaping Windows that we see now.
Upon being asked to share his thoughts on the exhibitions and events focused on the Indian comic-book scene, he joked, “I have personally stopped going to some of the popular festivals. The blatant commercialisation sort of eclipses and drowns out the whole point of the comic-book spirit. In one of the instalments, I remember they were selling undergarments at a comic-book stall instead of maybe conducting a sketching contest or something more pertinent to the ethos.”
Why Leaping Windows?
We learnt that the story of its name traces itself back when his wife’s friend’s little brother had jumped off the window wearing a cape from the first floor (The silhouette sketch of which serves as their cafe’s insignia) Reassuring that the boy is hail and hearty, he cited that the boy’s escapade spurred them on to name it Leaping Windows because reading comic books is just like leaping from one window to another.
He claimed that Manga Comics offer real comic book reading experience as opposed to the likes of DC and Marvel. Crystallising the importance of Manga, he shared his preference, “I think manga is more slice-of-life and immersive than the mainstream ones in my opinion”
Speaking about the visitors, Shome said, “We know some loyal visitors who come all the way from Pune to spend a day of uninterrupted reading”
With 5,000 odd books now, Leaping Windows packs a stunning collection. From every collection of Tinkle, Superman, Thor and X-Men to a sizeable amount of Astroboy, Monster, Detective Conan. Amruta Patil (Kari), Frank Miller (Sin City), Will Eisner (The Contract with God), Sarnath Banerjee (The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers, The Harappa Files) are just some of the many names from the list of graphic novels reposed in the shelves.
The nifty intersection of graphic novels and comics, drinks and food would not only gladden the comic lovers that are on a look-out for a place that can transport them to the comic world but also foster a penchant for beginners. What more can one ask for?