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Books and the Ooru: A Valentine’s Day love story

Feb 15, 2024 09:08 AM IST

Sudha Murthy reiterated that what had first drawn her to ‘Murthy’ was how voraciously – and eclectically – he read

This past weekend, Bengaluru hosted a series of events around the launch of a new book that describes the warm relationship shared by two of her most famous citizens – the very accomplished IT pioneer NR Narayana Murthy and his best-selling author wife Sudha Murthy. As she has in past interviews, Sudha reiterated that what had first drawn her to ‘Murthy’ was how voraciously – and eclectically – he read.

Bengaluru hosted a series of events around the launch of a new book, IT pioneer NR Narayana Murthy and his best-selling author wife Sudha Murthy (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Bengaluru hosted a series of events around the launch of a new book, IT pioneer NR Narayana Murthy and his best-selling author wife Sudha Murthy (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mr Murthy grew up in Sidlaghatta, a raw-silk-producing, silkworm-rearing town an hour away from Bengaluru; Mrs Murthy in faraway Shiggaon, then part of the cultural and literary hub of Dharwad. But there is something very Bengalurean about the fact that it was books that brought the two together.

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For reading books (in cafes, club reading rooms, libraries, or public parks), talking books (at book launches, author talks, book clubs, and the wonderful annual Bangalore Litfest), and browsing in bookstores (as part of weekend family outings, couple dates, staycations, or me-time afternoons) are all bonafide Bengaluru occupations. While both boutique bookstores and large chains struggle to stay afloat across the country in the face of deep discounting by online behemoths and a decline in the reading habit among customers, in Bengaluru, independent bookstores (think English bookstores Atta Galatta and Champaca, Kannada-English bookstores Bahuroopi, Ankita Pustaka, and Harivu Books, and children’s bookstores Lightroom and Funky Rainbow) continue to blossom.

It all began in 1905, over a century before a 2017 survey of consumer book-buying behaviour across India declared Bengaluru India’s ‘best-read city’. That was the year that CH Higginbotham opened the city’s first English bookstore in the heart of the British Cantonment. The stately 1897 building on posh South Parade (today’s MG Road), still stands, and Higginbotham’s, astoundingly, is still in business. In 1945, bibliophile lawyer KBK Rao relocated from Kurnool to Bengaluru and set up Select Book Shop in a garage on Museum Road. In 1977, Rao’s son KKS Murthy (now 94), took over, moving the shop to an alley off Brigade Road, from where it has continued to delight seekers of rare and antiquarian books.

The coming of the unified state of Mysore in 1956, the result of a movement spearheaded by Kannada litterateurs, brought Kannada publishing firmly into the spotlight. In 1960, the first major Kannada publishing house and bookstore – Navakarnataka Publications – made its entry. In 1965, the legendary Bangalore Book Bureau (BBB) opened in Majestic, in the busy hub of the erstwhile City. Through the seventies and eighties, it was the generous and erudite Mr Shanbhag’s legendary Premier Book Shop (estd 1971) on Museum Road; Gangaram’s Book Bureau (BBB’s Cantonment-side cousin, estd 1975), presided over by the genial Atmaram Gangaram, on MG Road; the lovely Venkatesh and Guru Prasad’s Nagasri Book House in Jayanagar (estd 1976); and Sapna Book House (estd 1967), which Mumbai railway-porter-turned-entrepreneur Suresh Shah first set up in a tiny space in Gandhinagar, that became Bengaluru’s go-to booksellers.

While Premier is now only a fond memory, Gangaram’s lives on in a smaller avatar, and Nagasri has carried gamely on, Sapna has exploded – it is one of the largest bookstores in India today, both in terms of sales volume and square footage, and the largest publisher of Kannada books.

Perhaps the sweetest Bengaluru book story, however, is that of the impecunious 19-year-old engineering student from the small town of Rangasamudra outside Mysore. Looking to earn some money on the side, young Mayi Gowda began selling second-hand books on the MG Road footpath, very close to the venerable Higginbotham’s. Today, his bookstore, Blossom Book House, on Church Street, is a Bengaluru landmark.

Heartwarmingly, Mayi’s protégé Krishna Gowda’s excellent bookstore, Bookworm, also flourishes alongside Blossom, on the very same street.

(Roopa Pai is a writer who has carried on a longtime love affair with her hometown Bengaluru)

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