Higginbothams, Bangalore’s oldest bookstore, is returning to MG Road on February 25 and everyone, including your mom and our dog, has a foreword to write for this second edition. Kryptos bassist Ganesh Krishnaswamy for instance, reminisces: “I would go in to pick up Shakespeare, but always stayed for a clandestine kiss with my girlfriend behind the TS Eliot shelf.” Others tell us about bunking college to read Kafka or measuring their kids’ heights against stacks of books on the first floor. Most people remember the way it smells - old books + new paint - and are glad they didn’t have to contact a perfumer to bottle it.
Back in a new avatar, Higginbothams is “modern” on the inside, in contrast to the outer Greek Palladium, which has been left to its old devices. The newly renovated ground floor will focus on children’s literature, while the first floor will feature a special section on Karnataka, among the usual hardcover classics, new fiction and non-fiction books. Those who used to lurk about the bookstore’s closed-off sections, imagining dragons in its dungeons and the ghost of Miss Havisham in the courtyard, this bit of news is for you: the bookstore passageway between MG Road and Church Street will be opened for the first time to feature Higginbotham’s historic timeline and a guest registry. And within this year, the courtyard will house a coffee shop too.
Director of Higginbothams India, Gautam Venkataramani also alludes to the fact that some very special books and first editions will be imported from the Chennai bookstore soon. An appendix operation, if you will.
The first Higginbothams store was launched by a librarian named Abel Joshua Higginbotham in Chennai in 1884, following which a second shop arrived on MG Road (then called South Parade Road) in 1905. Already popular with the British Raj by reputation, the bookstore quickly became the bastion to browse for army chiefs, leaders of state, royalty and educational pioneers. Mr Venkataramani tells us that over the years, Higginbothams has seen its fair share of celebrities. “Actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar visited in the 1970s and 1980s, as did former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar and political satirist Cho Ramaswamy. In recent times, authors including Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi have stopped by.”
Of course, there were also commoners like you and me, but no one really wants to read about us.
We'll be there on February 25 anyway, side characters in this MG Road Saga, tracing an old literary route down this street, the way we used to in college. Start at Higginbothams for classics, moving to Gangarams up the road for non-fiction, and peep into Premier Bookstore to say hello to the famously reticent Mr Shanbhag, at which point you will be told that Premier shut down in 2009. Seek comfort and better bargains at the tiny second-hand bookshop Bookworm, and end with a pick of graphic novels in the congested corners of Blossom (with a new branch up the street). Actually wait, end with beers at Guzzlers.
Writer’s block never sounded like so much fun.
Getting there: No 74, MG Road, opposite the Metro Station. Higginbothams turns on its lights at 6 pm on February 25, and this will be followed by a Q&A with author Amish Tripathi.
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