Bidisha Basu, Co-founder of Leaping Windows Café, has created a unique space for comic lovers
Of the many interesting cafes and shops in the by lanes of Versova, few can boast of the old school vibe of a friendly neighborhood library. Reminiscent of times when small neighborhood libraries were hangouts for kids and adults alike and a main source of entertainment on long lazy afternoons, much before screens took over our lives, Leaping Windows Café is a unique space that combines a Comic Library with a Café.
Started and managed by Bidisha Basu in partnership with her husband Utsa Shome, an ex-lawyer and Chef Prathamesh Shenoy, a graduate of IHM Aurangabad, Leaping Windows was initially conceptualized as an online comic library in 2010. With the opening of the café and physical library in Versova in 2012, it has since turned into a space for wider community activities such as workshops, book readings, a book donation drive, charitable activities and much more.
Kolkata - U.S. - Ladakh
Growing up in Kolkata, books had always been a huge part of Bidisha’s childhood and adolescent years. She studied English Literature in Presidency College in Kolkata, before moving to Wisconsin, U.S., to pursue a degree in Journalism from Marquette University. Once back, she took up a job with Wildlife Magazine, Sanctuary Asia for about a year. She later dabbled as a freelance writer and worked with a few production houses before taking a break to volunteer with the Secmol School in Ladakh.
An Introduction to Manga and Anime
It was while volunteering in Ladakh, that she came across an opportunity to go to Japan as a teaching assistant on a Japanese Education and Teaching (JET) program of the Indian Embassy. While exploring ways to connect and engage with her students in Japan, she learned about the world of Japanese comics. Until that time, as with most people, her exposure to comics had been limited to Tintin or the likes of Indrajal comics such as Phantom, etc.
Her perception, of comics being meant for a narrow audience, changed when she witnessed the crazy fan following of Manga and Anime in Japan. After deep diving into the world of Japanese comics she could understand why their appeal was much broader than she imagined. “Comics are just a medium there with almost all possible genres being covered for all types of audiences. The stories are very gripping and illustrated beautifully. I love the non-verbal & visual element of comics. So much can be communicated through illustrations without saying a word and it’s fascinating how the same story can seem completely different because of a different style of illustration”, says Bidisha. Both Bidisha and her husband Utsa share the love for comics. Utsa says, “Comics allow me to be in the bridge between stories and art”.
From Online Library to Cafe – The Journey So Far
This love for comics led them to build what is probably India’s only exclusive comic library. In the beginning the online library would deliver comics anywhere across Mumbai. The objective was to share their love for comics and make them accessible to everyone. For this, the duo collected comics from various collectors; picked up second hand comics; bought rare single issues such as issues from the Lone Wolf and Cub, Berlin, Dark Knight series, etc.; and conducted workshops every month at Café Mocha to popularize the idea.
“When we started the library, we realized that there was no waiting audience for this sort of thing. There was a need for encouragement to try something new, and that’s how the café and physical library was born. Of course things are a little different now, because a lot of these comics are being made into movies; there is a curiosity to read the actual comic. But there is still a lot of undiscovered stuff out there. Therefore, an important part of what we do is recommending titles to people based on what they might like. Matching people to comics is where we come in”, says Bidisha.
Of course, the library is a great place to self-discover comics as well. If the shelves packed with familiar and not so familiar comics are not reason enough, the graphics and illustrations on the walls and the delectable food are definite motivation to lose yourself in this world.
Leaping Windows Café – A Labor Of Love
The décor of the café has been a labor of love, which was blossomed over the years with help from friends and collaborations with other like-minded groups of comic enthusiasts. There is a wall with sketches by customers; illustrations by famous graphic artist and comics creator George ‘Appupen’ Mathen, the creator of groundbreaking graphic novels such as Moonward and Legends of Halahala; and black and white murals by Mrinal Roy of the Mumbai Anime Club (MAC).
Chef Prathamesh’s inventive menu adds to the unique vibe of the place. He says, “The café is known for a comfortable space, which the menu tries to follow. The inspiration for the menu comes from trying to find similarities in cuisines that are inherent in Indian food. For example, we use a lot of fried okra, raw mango, red spinach, etc. in our food. Our risotto is made with red rice, our guacamole with green peas rather than avocado. The attempt is to engage the core elements of Indian products in a unique style”.
One unintentional outcome of the space is how it has turned into a place for a lot of community activities. Bidisha’s credits Versova’s unique vibe to this. She says,“There have been times when people come in and immediately recognize 3-4 other people sitting in the café, it’s become a hangout for the local community”.
The Café regularly conducts workshops and interactive sessions. Last month it had held an interactive session with German comic creator, Reinhard Kleist, organized by Max Mueller Bhavan. Before that there was a poetry reading and book signing event with poet Pragya Bhagat. Recently the café posted the sale of 527 secondhand donated books in one week, the proceeds of which go towards the education of underprivileged children in association with Angel Xpress Foundation.
Bidisha is just glad that what they had envisioned as a laid-back space for comic lovers to read, write, draw, chill, eat, and connect with like-minded people has turned into a space for a real and vibrant community connect; much like the now forgotten neighborhood libraries of the past.