Monday, January 04, 2010

kadambi booksellers

I have been living in Marredpally for quite a few years now, and every time I cross the main road, a big sign that says Kadambi Booksellers catches my eye. I had heard that it was an old bookshop, full of rare books, but had never got the opportunity to take a look inside. I walked into the shop today, expecting to find ancient treasures, but what followed was nothing short of a life-changing experience.

The owner of Kadambi, a man who is into his 84th year, sits at the front fumbling about with a radio. R N Acharya, who started the bookshop over 60 years back, tells me how the store has evolved over the years- starting off as a small bookshop in a garage to becoming one of the major landmarks in the city, and finally shifting to the current location on account of 'road widening' at Clock Tower.

The shop is neatly stacked and is organised by category. There are whole racks of NBT books, and it was thrilling to see the collection. The shelves are covered in dust; yet the books seem carefully preserved. He knows exactly which book is where, as he fingers for the book he wants to show me. 'Come read anytime', he says. 'You can stay here the whole day and nobody will disturb you.' One section of the shop contains technical books, mostly engineering, that he wants to distribute for free. 'Impart knowledge, not exploit knowledge', he tells me as he shows me his own personal collection of books that he read at school, standing on the bench for not doing homework. ('But I consistently topped my class!' he adds.)

'If you have the time, I will give you a synopsis of my life.' R N Acharya was born into a well-educated and modern family. His father was multilingual, a graduate of Presidency College in those days (three generations above us) and a correspondent for Reuters. His mother worked for LIC and even drove a car. After her early death, his father left the city. Acharya and his brother got jobs as clerks in the army and took care of the younger ones. Later, he started selling fiction books and also worked as a newspaper delivery boy. His shop picked up over the years and brought him to where he is now. He showed me photographs of his family, a collection of letters and postcards.

He talks of India before and after the British Raj, of readership, of the education system, of his own struggle for survival. 'It is only now that you have these modern conveniences. Back then, things were very different..' I realise that his voice speaks for his entire generation. So much about him reminded me of my own grandfather. While he uses an old typewriter to put his thoughts on paper, his brand new computer sits on his desk, covered with a blanket.

Here is a man who has regularly corresponded with politicians and literati (even Somerset Maugham-imagine!), has had bigwig customers, has earned the respect and goodwill of everyone he has interacted with, and is sought after by authors and publishers from all over the country. Yet, he humbly says- 'I have braved through the times. I don't know how, but I'm still surviving. I earn very little.' Acharya plans on writing a book, which will tell the story of his life. But I urge each one of you to go see him in person, drop by the oldest bookstore in Andhra Pradesh, buy a book, meet this simple yet heroic man who is an icon of generations.


subbi said...

pl send this article to Hindu or Times for publication.More people should know about Kadambi.

Tangled up in blue... said...

:) He's like Mr. Kamath who owns the Strand Bookstore here..he's met three Presidents who all came here to buy books from him.

It takes an incredible person to dedicate their whole life to books like this. I agree with subbi here, you really shud send this to a newspaper so more people know about Kadambi and Mr. Acharya.

Pankaj said...

so fairytale like :).

Arse Poetica. said...

lovely blog, and a very interesting post.

Ashwin said...

seems such an interesting man. wonderful really! :)

GreyVitriol said...

Hey! You said you'd take me there.
When? when? when?

Sridhar Balan said...

A lovely, heartwarming piece on Mr acharya of Kadambi. Very similar to a piece I had done on Select Book Services off brigade road in bangalore. Acharya belongs to that generation - Ram advani of Lucknow and Mr Shanbag of Strand. My regret - not being able to go and see him in Marredapally during my visits to Hyderabad.