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Bengaluru’s forgotten celebrity is a bookshop older than independent India

Varsha Roysam
28th Oct 2017
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Sitting in the vicinity of Bengaluru’s book paradise, Church Street, is a quaint bookshop that has been endowing readers with the rarest of books since 1945. Books, apparently, are mightier than concrete because the bookshop stands strong even today.

The 1940s was a time that witnessed the fervour of the Quit India Movement and the growing hope for an independent India. It was a time when rupee notes still had the face of King George VI. In this now black-and-white era was a lawyer, KBK Rao, practising in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, who held a deep love for books. His personal collection has, over a period of 70 years, grown into a bookshop in Bengaluru that is a haven for readers even today.

Select Bookshop, located just off the ever-busy Brigade main road, is easily missed because of the pocket of solitude it sits in, almost mimicking the past it was conceived in. The bookshop houses early editions of rare titles, lesser-known novels by famous authors, along with newer titles in an attempt to keep up with the times. Rao’s grandson, K Sanjay, 54, now manages this little, yet vast, bookshop that has been frequented by personalities such as CV Raman, Ruskin Bond, Ramachandra Guha, and Girish Karnad; and in the diffused light of his grandfather’s legacy, he converses with YourStory.

The inception

As British families were slowly making their way out of the country, they were leaving behind their vast collections of books. These books were sold at auctions and Rao, having dependable associates among auctioneers in Bangalore, would make his way to the city upon their call to claim these abandoned treasures. In doing so, he would often abandon his poor clients in the court, as his son, KKS Murthy, once recalled.

An Englishman by the name of EJ Robertson, who also frequented the auctions, soon offered him a garage on Museum Road to accommodate this insatiable hunger for books. And so, Select Bookshop came into existence in 1945.

The torch passed on to the enigmatic son

KKS Murthy, who was an aeronautical engineer, shared his father’s love for books. While working with Lockheed in the US, Murthy kept an eye out for rare books that he could send his father’s way. When he wasn’t working, he spent his time overseas travelling to Paris and London in search of bookstores.

He soon quit his technocratic profession and joined the publishing house Simon & Schuster as an inventory collector. Here he once discovered that the youngsters in charge of inspecting published books were discarding those with negligibly minor imperfections. Unsettled by this, Murthy bought the pile of dejected books for $200 and dispatched them to India where they found a home in his father’s bookshop.

It was in the late 1970s that he left his overseas career behind and joined his father permanently in the momentous task of raising a bookshop.

When the grandson took the throne

“I was young then so I visited the bookshop many times in the ’70s, if not the ’60s,” recalls K Sanjay, who was in his late teens when his father took over the business of the bookshop. At the time, it was still located on Museum Road, where it thrived for over 30 years. Then the shop was moved to Malleshwaram for a short duration, following which it found another favourable spot back on MG road.

“Unfortunately, we had to vacate that place as well. It was a good location, at the corner of a traffic signal. So we would have had new customers walking in every day,” he says, thinking of what would have been better days. The bookshop moved to its current location in 1984.

Sanjay, who worked at a private firm, took over at the bookshop in 1999, after his father, KKS Murthy, had nurtured it for 15 years. He remembers the day when former governor TN Chaturvedi, known for his love of books, visited the bookshop:

“He arrived in his government vehicle with his chela behind him. Traffic had stopped because the governor was coming to Select Bookshop!” he recalls, adding that incidences such as these were a source of excitement in the otherwise mellow bookstore.

How a 72-year-old bookshop copes in the 21st century

As a quiet man whose timid mannerisms stand out against his father’s zeal (as seen in his interviews), Sanjay may not hold the same passion for books that his father and grandfather did, but he does harbour a luminous commitment to the shop.

Just like Murthy, he’s attuned to his customers’ choices and is always ready with suggestions while people are browsing through the beckoning stacks of books. He steps out every Sunday to visits local bookshops searching for titles he believes would interest his customers. He recalls once having stumbled upon a very early edition, “possibly the first,” of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He also sources books for specific requests directly from other bookshops and mails them to his customers so “they don’t have to wait until it arrives here.”

Speaking of the evolution of customers the bookshop has seen since inception, he says, “Not many of the older, regular customers still visit. We have mostly young people coming in now,” but he notices a change, “A lot of students used to visit the shop before, looking for particular titles. We don’t have many students coming now,” he says. Sanjay and Murthy, however, hold display stalls in some colleges around the city like Mount Carmel College and St Joseph’s College of Commerce.

“The location is the real problem,” he says, explaining how that is his only concern about the future of the bookshop. “Not many people know that there is a bookshop here.”

Select may be a forgotten celebrity but it still contains the essence of an iconic bookshop — one cannot walk out without a book in hand and a swelling satisfaction on having found a treasure.

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