Mr.K.K.S. Murthy who runs his merchandise from an obscure lane off the busy Brigade Road.
I had bought so many books from Select,in fact, I now regularly buy from Murthy from Encyclopaedia Brittannica to Will Durant”s History of the Civilization volumes to any topics you can imagine. I buy books for their value besides my interests range over a wide variety of topics,from literature, history, philosophy to even such far-from related interests like photography to obscure topics.
No books, no civilization! That is my view.
Have you ever loved a book or books?If so, then I would ask what kind of books?If no,then it is your own damnation! No salvation! Now,if you say yes,then my questions won’t stop easily!If you are a book lover then I would ask:do you really love books?Do you love old books?If you say yes again,then you are part of my inner circle! Yes, the lovers of old, rare, out of print books, there are deeply passionate people about these books.
This is almost like a religion,an esotoric religion I would say.
And antiquarian books is the very treasure of mankind’s wisdom of the ages! There are any number of such antiquarian bookshops in the West and in Oxford there are too many and too specialised ones.I had bought some my best loved books, the World Classics series in these shops.Almost all of Tolstoy I bought here only. After I came back to India my interest in secondhand books continued.
I used to search for these bookshops in all the cities, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta,not the least Chennai.In fact,I should say my interest in these book shops originated from my College days in Chennai, thanks to the legendary Moore Market book shops.
There are so many things in life that come cheap and yet we don’t realise these rare treasures.I had always searched for the best things in whatever field I chose to excel! Be it books or antique furniture.
In Bangalore I have been lucky to spot some of these treasure troves.As for the old books,rare and of print books it is Murthy and his Select Bookshop.As for antique furniture reproductions I have the Bhasins, Mr and Mrs,and they make a fantastic couple. They inherit this love from the Kolkatta days.Then there is Ms.Anji, the antique seller,a dear Chinese lady friend who along with her husband are now our circle of close friends.I can go on and on…I think one must have this fuzz for finer things of life, right? Otherwise, what is life for and what is life and living about?
I see and read everyday the new age entrepreneurs.Bangalore has full of them,the instant millionaires and now billionaires too. Sorry, they all leave me unimpressed! Why? Yes,I love money, I like to earn more money. Indian needs these these types of entreprenuers,we have for long been a poor country and we need really big money and wealth creation and in this sense I admire the new wealth creators. But do these people know what is life beyond their bank balances?I doubt! I don’t read from their pronouncements any indication of their culture.They don’t seem to read books, not the real books that matter. It is here I rate Bangalore’s only antiquarian bookseller, my friend for years, the unassuming.
How long I know Murthy?I can’t tell. But I can tell you well an anecdote. It was in the year 1961, I think, soon after I came back from Oxford I visited Bangalore. One day I was strolling on the Mahatma Gandhi Road and at the end of it I chanced to see an old book store. I don’t now remember the exact location or the person in the store. All I remember to this day was the fact that I wanted to buy one book, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians.But what I remember to this day is the fact that when I left the bookshop I was saddled with a load of books! I didn’t know how that happened.
It was many years later one day I chanced to make enquiries of the old booshop which disappeared and someone pointed to the Select Bookshop. For quite sometime I also didn’t make enquiries and when I did make,I was pleasantly surprised that the original book shop was owned by none other than but Mr.Murthy’s own legendary father,the late KBK Rao! He was and even now remains a legend among the book lovers.Not only in India but also in many countries outside India as well.Murthy’s brother, K.K.R. Murthy has narrated how in 1976 when the senior Rao was 78 he demonstrated his love for his books and how he selected the books that would last long in a book search that at the end of the day was given to him all for free! Yet, he did pay a fee for what he was offered.
Now, I can talk so much about the legendary Rao’s genius for books, his selling skills and more than these his knack for spotting a gem out of the hundreds of books.This trait runs through Murthy and what is more to it, the family gene, runs through his son and inheritor of the trade and the legacy the young Mr.Sanjay.Now, I must come to the real joys and ecstasy of buying books from Select.
The latest purchase, are two gems again! The two are:The Book of Etiquette by Lady Troubridge, published by The Association of BookbuyersCompnay,England,
first print1926, reprinted 1936.Pages 475 and the book would last for ever! The other book is also on etiquette, simply called:Etiquette by Charlotte Ford’s:Guide to modern manners,published in New York in 1988.
The two fields that engage my attention are Greece and Rome. The Murthys now into the third generation in this line.
Besides,they know my book reading habits.I am not strictly a collector in the way this word is used.I am just a lover of fine things of life! That is all!Books of my choice are widening and I like to go for the original, hardcover editions of classics in each field that interests me. I often refer to Select the books I need, many times even new titles.
Much more than buying books,it is always a delight to meet Murthy and talk with him. One of the secrets I had kept to myself all these days is those who hadn’t visited his shop,the big names in corporate worlds! This list I use to decide how many among our rich and famous remain philistines still! In the sense Mathew Arnold uses this description in his “Culture and Anarchy”. I am embarrassed to talk of Murthy his qualities because we know each other so well for long.
But I would be missing out the essential link in the friendship if I don’t share with readers how much I enjoy talking with him.He is a fund of knowledge, he knows the antiquarian book trade, he had helped his father buy old books in the USA where he had been working once and he had also travelled all over the world and so he knows all the people in this line.Talking with Murthy is like roaming through a huge library! He knows all the scholars, from all over India and you would be surprised if I say that at any time at Select the chances are you would be meeting at least a few foreigners as his clients.There are now many such visiting clients,the first thing they do once they land in Bangalore was to make a stop at Select!
What really surprises me is the fact that Murthy is a good reader of books himself,he loves his knowledge and the last time I met him one afternoon I found him reading a book by Tolstoy!What was the book,I became curious.I asked him and he showed the book:What then must be done? It would be no exaggeration to say that at this time of our lives,in the midsts of so much of happenings I doubt whether in India there could be any one reading Tolstoy’s great classic!
Yes,this was what I was wanting to convey to readers:Select is not a mere book shop.It is a mini university!
I narrate my British experiences. In 1989 I visited Great Britain.I wrote a letter of all persons to Price Charles! Another letter to the then Prime Minister Margartet Thatcher! You would be surprised to know that in due course I not only got replies from the two dignitaries their language was couched in most polite language,the language of very fine etiquette and manners.My own Oxford College,New College motto is written: Manners maketh men! This is in contrast to an earlier age. J.R.D.Tata replied to my letter! But I can’t say the same thing about the present day corporate captains.
By a Correspondent