A friend of mine turns 92 this month. Let me rephrase that: a friend of Bengaluru’s, Kannambille Krishnamurthy Srinivasa Murthy, turns 92. K.K.S. Murthy is an institution, a soft-spoken, smiling legend who found a new group of young admirers at his Select Bookshop off Brigade Road. This was during the weekend devoted to bookshops in and around Church Street – the richest in the country with its line-up of bookstores and book-loving owners.
Sitting on a mat spread out in the upstairs room of the 77-year old bookstore, young Bengalureans, some of them recent arrivals to the city, took in the personal stories of writers such as Ram Guha and Vasudhendra, each with a connection to Select, founded by Murthy’s father K.B.K. Rao. It was a scene that came alive in other bookstores too, much-loved by old Bengaluru hands and now welcoming new generations.
Two writers – Zac O’Yeah and Shatrujeet Nath – were behind the idea of encouraging people to go back to the bookstores, and as a bonus meet and greet some of the writers who live and work in Bengaluru. Professionals who talked shop when they met were now talking bookshops: there was love, nostalgia, gratitude, hope, melancholy, devotion, appreciation. It was heart-warming. This literary thanksgiving should become an annual feature.
Murthy’s Select – now equally his son Sanjay’s Select – is probably the smallest of the bookstores involved, making for an intimate and cozy Sunday morning congregation. It is part of the city’s heritage, as important for the books as for Murthy’s fund of stories. In the years I worked outside Bengaluru, I always dropped in when I came to visit my parents here. We spent hours talking, and a lot of what I know of the city of a particular period, came from this man of history. “Books are always intimate with me,” Murthy once said. It was almost poetic.
Like some of the other owners, Murthy too was a generous man who consistently underpriced a book for the interested reader. It was always readers and writers here, not consumers and products as the marketing men have it.
Everybody has a favourite book or two from their favourite bookshops. For me, from Select it was The Great Modern Poets, a beautifully produced book which came with a CD of W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath reciting their poems. It was incredibly inexpensive. As was the facsimile of George Orwell’s 1984 in his own handwriting, with corrections and suggestions by the author.
Sometimes I thought Murthy felt a twinge when he had to sell a book, to see something he loved leave his store. In his ideal world, he would sit surrounded by books and friends, exchanging stories, laughing at the foibles of a city where he grew from being the son of a bookman to one himself and then passed on the legacy to his own son. An unusual family, an unusual legacy.
(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)