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Going by the BOOK

How K.K.S. Murthy combines book collection with business.

Print Edition: January 25, 2007

Irun an antiquarian bookshop in Bangalore named Select. You won’t find much if you seek the latest Grisham or Sheldon but if books printed before Independence interest you, then my inheritance of 70,000 books might be what you are looking for. I have sold autographed copies of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, rare prints of 1001 Nights by Richard Burton, ancient travelogues and lithographs amongst others.

My story began with my father’s love for books. He would spend his pocket money importing books from Foyles & Boots in England. He was a lawyer and collected rare books in his leisure. He quit his practice in 1945 to set up this bookshop in a garage on Museum Road. It was then called Select Book Club. Independence saw the exodus of Englishmen and their books being sold off to collectors.

The shop prospered and the clientele included Sir C.V. Raman, Philip Spratt, Ruskin Bond and the erstwhile Maharaja of Kolhapur. I followed in my father’s footsteps in 1981, quitting my two-decadelong career as an aeronautical engineer. On a trip to Paris, I picked up a rare coffee table book on Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore, from one of the bookshops along the Seine. My father later presented it to Raman, an admirer of the king.

Profit matters but it’s not the prime motive, else my father and I wouldn’t have quit our careers. However to survive in this profession one needs the skill of knowing how much to pay when buying collections. My father, on his maiden trip to the US bought 3,000 books in the closing hours of a library sale for $10. I once picked up 2,500 rejected books for $100. It is possible to make a profit of 15-20%. It increases for rare books. I was once offered Rs 5 lakh for a rare lithograph.

Now at 76, I have friends across the country. I have never believed in advertising my shop yet when I sense the amazement of first-time visitors, I realise I “select”-ed the right profession.

(As told to SHARADH MANIAN)

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