Saturday, August 14, 2010

Used book stores in Bangalore

Anyone who lived in Bangalore in the 80s and 90s would remember the guys selling used books in the different parts of Bangalore.
I am an avid reader of English fiction. Started with Enid Blyton books in primary school, then adding on the Hardy Boys, the three investigators and Nancy Drew books . Then the Mills and Boons in High school and also James Hadley Chase. ( I was in High School in the late 70s and it is important to know the time here i.e. the late 70s and early 80s….the new generations have not even heard of James Hadley Chase). I then moved on to Alistair Maclean, Arthur Hailey, humor by P.G.Wodehouse, James Herriot, The Doctor series by Richard Gordon, the really sad Doctor novels by A.J.Cronin, etc.
I could never get books from the Public Libraries as they never had the books I wanted. Moreover, the intellectually challenged authorities at the Public Libraries always bound the books in such a way that one had to open the book to know which book it was ! The title on the spine was never visible and one had to pull out the book and open it to know the title ! To find a book, one had to open all the books until one finds the book one wants ! It was a nightmare !
I lived in Rajajinagar and there were hardly any private libraries. There was one called Prasad stores ( I think) near the Navarang theatre but it was too far for me as I lived in the west of chord road and my dad would never let me to go alone till there to visit the library.
My dad is a fanatic book-lover but unfortunately he would only buy Kannada books. They were books of great merit no doubt, but I hated reading in Kannada and would never read them ! My dad always tried to make me and my sisters read them but to no avail. Reading the Kannada texts at school was more than enough for me ! I was slow in reading Kannada and I think I have read one serialized novel in the now extinct Prajamatha magazine (I read it because it was made into a Kannada movie with Vishnuvardhan and Aarthi I think). We have thousands of kannada books at home but I have not read even one of them !
My dad had so many books that when some people suggested he open a library, he took the suggestions seriously and opened one. My dad decided to subscribe to various Kannada and English magazines too, to attract members. The subscriptions included Indrajal comics, The Illustrated weekly of India, Femina, Filmfare, Stardust, Reader’s digest and a few Kannada magazines like Kasturi, Tushara, Prajamata, Sudha, the yearly Deepavali Sanchike. I was in middle school and eagerly awaited the Indrajal comics especially for the Phantom ones ! One can only experience but cannot fully describe the joy of getting the Indrajal comic early in the morning from the Newspaper delivery guy after waiting for a month (or was it 15 days? I don’t remember) and reading it !
I also loved the comic section of the Illustrated weekly which included my beloved Phantom comic strip, Beetle Bailey, some comic called Hubert and Dennis the Menace. I loved the short stories in the illustrated weekly and the lovely illustrations. The only illustrators names I remember are Kavadi and R.K.Laxman.
After many years, I even tore the comic pages from the illustrated weeklies and bound into 2 huge books. I also tore the short stories and bound them.
I feel so nostalgic thinking of those times. I had a super time reading those books and mags. I also think I spent more time than I should reading them as I never did well in school. I could not bear to study and the tougher the subject (science, maths, hindi, kannada, and social studies were tough…that is every thing except English !) the more I avoided it . I would always make promises to myself or my dad that I would read just one comic/story/whatever and then study but I never kept my promise.
I remember one day when my family discovered that a member of the library stole a couple of expensive books. My dad was so upset that he immediately closed the library and all the magazine subscriptions were stopped as we could not afford them as we dint have money from the members. I was upset by the stopping of the English magzines and persuaded my dad to continue them as they were “educational”. I think my dad did continue to buy the Reader’s digest and Illustrated weekly but the film mags were stopped.
Some interesting things I learnt from our library venture were: even “decent” people i.e. middle class people cut out pages from mags and books ! That people are really careless with books which do not belong to them. And of course, that people steal books.
Very few friends of mine owned books which I enjoyed reading. So I could not really borrow much. But there were a few neighbours who were “relatively rich” and got books for their kids. I managed to borrow a few Enid Blyton books from them. I loved the smell of their books ! It really felt 'foreign' !
I have spent innumerable hours weaving fantasies after reading these books. I was always a heroine either finding treasure or saving lives in these day dreams of mine. And whether it is because of these books or something…I have a dream which has recurred over years …I am in some underground city, parts of which look like the Kaadu Malleshwara temple of Malleshwaram, in which there are lots of old and precious statues of Gods & Goddesses.
Coming back to the guys selling books in Bangalore. Buying new books was simply out of the question due to money constraints. So it had to be old books. I discovered wonderful treasures at various book sellers all over Bangalore. Many who sold on the streets instead of shops no longer exist for various reasons. I bought books at Malleshwaram, Majestic, Shivajinagar, M.G.Road, the Sunday market on Avenue road and city market. Some of my favourite treasures include a hard bound Billy Bunter book, English Textbooks for children printed and published in Great Britain( the print, the pages, the illustrations, the pages, the woodcut etchings, are fantastic), Westerns i.e. Sudden books by Fredrick H Christian and Oliver Strange. One treasure I got and also lost was a hilarious book of schoolboys boners. I paid about 50 paise for it and it was worth it’s weight in gold ! I probably loaned it to some friend who dint return it. I have also searched in Mysore city for books and I am not sure if I bought any there. There are several books at my dad’s home from these used book shops but most of them are now available either as reprints or on ebay, amazon, etc. But finding Billy Bunter in hardbound or Sudden books today is really difficult even on the internet. I even found Lolita, a book banned in India, in one of these second hand books shops.
Some of the most joyful exciting moments in my life was receiving from the postman,  the books we had ordered from reader's digest company. I was ecstatic when I could persuade my dad to buy the book(RD has published some amazing books and we have a few of them such as Joy of nature, the RD three volume dictionary, How to live with life, etc). We really could not afford the books but my dad was kind enough to buy them. I loved looking at the pictures in the books and felt so alive when I was with those books.
People and children from Canada, USA and other such countries have no idea of the scarcity and accessibility  of 'readable' books in countries like India in the 70s. In Canada and USA, there are millions of  great books available and accessible TO ALL, whether you are rich or poor, living in the rural areas or cities.  I was so hungry for books and had no access and so the joy when I could find a book or buy a book was great. Deprivation really makes one's experience of joy greater than having ready access twenty-four seven!
While finding a rare and out of print book is a joy in itself, the whole process is a memorable experience. Finding a good book, hiding your joy and maintaining a poker face ( You do not want the seller to hike the price, proportionate to your joy, do you ?) when you ask the price and bargain, pretending to leave without buying hoping he will call you back with a lower price, is all part of the experience. Feeling abashed by a street vendor who asked, “Do you know this is Wodehouse madam? Where can you get Wodehouse for 5 rupees?” is another unforgotten experience. This was a Tamil guy, who was unnervingly savvy about books and authors and it was impossible to bargain with him. I had a good rapport with the book sellers. I visited one of the guys selling books on Mysore Bank road after a long hiatus and he remembered me ! He asked if I had left Bangalore and I told him I had married and moved and hardly ever passed through the Majestic area.
Now of course, book stores profiles have changed over time. I find some stores selling new, used and pirated books.
I find that book stores like Gangarams no longer sell only books but sell a whole lot of other stuff like stationary, etc. Stores like Blossoms at Church street, sell used books at higher prices than I ever paid. But maybe I am the only one who thinks the prices are too high… To explain, I moved out of India 6 years ago and I am not able to get over the shock I get when I see the inflation in Bangalore after a 6 year absence.
Blossoms was a fantastic find for me when I came to India for many reasons. After living in Canada, I have changed in that I no longer grab at any dog-eared book by a favourite author but I would like to have a neat and clean book. At Blossoms I got several books by my once favourite author James Hadley Chase. Chase is not available in Canada and people have not even heard of him. I did get a few in the Public library (but it was in large print for the elderly !) of Toronto but only a few. I also got a few other books at Blossoms like Haruki Murakami. They were new books and much cheaper than at say Gangarams or Higgins Bothams. And no. They were not pirated!

Russian books in Bangalore

Russian books in Bangalore: I was born and brought up in Bangalore.I spent 5 years of my life (Puc & BA) i.e. between 1981-1986 travelling daily to the Home Science College and Maharani’s Arts College. I enjoyed my college and more so my visits to the used book stalls by the roadside near Avenue road and on Mysore Bank Road. I bought a huge number of books at really really low rates from those sellers . The books were usually dog-eared, dirty from being exposed to the dust of the heavy city traffic and faded from the sun and age. I also bought books from sellers near Majestic theatre and the Upparpet police station.

I also discovered the NavaKarnataka publications which sold tons of new Russian books (English translations) at ridiculously low prices. I cannot remember how many times I bought copies of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories for children with beautiful pencil sketches,(here is the image of the book cover) to give as gifts at children’s birthday parties.


The Russian  books had glossy pages and I always wondered how the hell the Russians could make a profit by selling books at such low rates ! I had to pay more than 100 rupees for a paperback book by James Hadley Chase printed on cheap paper while hard bound Russian classics like a book by Anton Chekov printed on glossy paper were less than 15 rupees each!

My dad was subscribing to the magzines from USSR since I was a little kid. I still remember the Kannada USSR magzines we had at home and also the Sputnik magazine from USSR. I loved the lovely photos and the glossy pages. The photos of women in their colourful skirts, golden hair and long plaits wound round their heads were a pleasure to see. I loved the photos of the snow covered forests and mountains, the farm land and massive farm machines. I remember fantasizing owning a farm and living on it like in Russia. (It was only later I learnt of the lies behind the photos…that there were huge problems in Russian agriculture and their economy and so on). I did not really find the Russian cartoons as funny as the ones in the SPAN magazine coming from USA. The SPAN was another lovely magazine which was inexpensive and informed about things in USA. Though I bought a lot of Russian books I read very few of them. I did love having them though ! I went through a phase in my teens and twenties when I wanted to have read all the classics and study literature and become a  famous writer ! I did read the short stories by Leo Tolstoy for children, started War and Peace and could not finish ( I did manage to sit through the complete movie which came on 2 or three days in parts. We had a black and white television then and it was a time in the 80s in Bangalore when award-winning foreign movies were broadcast by the Indian government who ran the television stations. I did read a huge chunk of Crime and Punishment (my dad had a lovely leather bound copy by Heron publications) but it was so depressing that  I stopped mid-way.
Why are all Russian classics so depressing? At least the ones I buy?

I do have plans of reading these books some time and right now I  have them all in my tiny house, eating up valuable space.  I have War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The brothers Karamazov, Anna Kareena and some books  by Anton Chekov.

The only Russia based books I have really enjoyed are the short stories for children by Leo Tolstoy and the Martin Cruz Smith books of the fictional Moscow detective Arkady Renko. And the Rostnikov series by Stuart Kaminsky and the triology of books by Tom Rob Smith.

Oh My God. I almost forgot ! I have bought tons of the Russian science books for my little sister (there is a 20 year age gap between us) …books on maths, chemistry, machines, physics. She recently said she did enjoy those books and they did help her learn a lot. She remembered a book about the periodic table with stories in it. I also remember that I got a few Russian books as prizes in school. We had B.Ed students (i.e. students studying education to become teachers)who would take classes for us in school and at the end of their term they held competitions for the school-students. I had won a few Russian books, given away as  prizes;  the B.Ed students probably chose Russian books as prizes as they were dirt cheap and also educational.

Now that the USSR no longer exists, I cant find the cheap Russian books in India any more. I miss some of them, especially the children’s books.