Shalini Srinivasan, the author of Vanamala and the Cephalpod divides her time between Hyderabad and Bangalore, and writes about her favourite bookshops in each city.
Nagasri has occupied a small corner of the Jayanagar shopping complex since 1976; the real estate it occupies in my head is about eight times that size, since most of my books are from here, and it is, in my opinion, one of the best places ever. It is run by two brothers, Mr Venkatesh and Mr Guruprasad, with the assistance of their siblings Ms Nagamani and Mr Seshadri. When they first began, they also sold stationery. “In those days greeting cards were big business, especially to all the colleges around,” notes Mr Guruprasad.
These days Nagasri has only books, the kind of books no one else has, a massive and varied collection that climbs up the walls and stretches across the roof, and makes you wish you could read every single thing.
The fiction collection is catholic, and sort of cheerfully defiant of literary trends (I am forever indebted to them for finding a full set of Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries in the mid-nineties when they weren’t available anywhere else in Bangalore). A fair amount is Indian writing in Kannada and English. The Indian English fiction has really picked up in the last ten years or so. “Earlier it was mostly literary fiction. People like R. K. Narayan and Shashi Deshpande are forever.” Now people read all kinds of Indian writing, including children’s books, translations, and popular fiction.
“We always keep our customer base in mind,” says Mr Guruprasad. “We know their requirements and tastes” – and you can tell by the fact that 75% percent of their customer base are “regulars who have becomes friends” and even fourth generation customers. (Confession: I’m only a lowly second gen.) Nagasri is especially remarkable for its thoughtfully collected non-fiction – some of it academic, some popular, ranging through history, science, philosophy, economics, politics, and popular culture. “Non-fiction does really well. People come looking for it,” says Mr Guruprasad. “We get requests from all over the world – the US, Canada, Nairobi … the internet has made the world very small and these days we ship books everywhere.”
Nagasri Book House,
Jayanagar Shopping Complex,
33, 9th Main, Jayanagar 4th Block, Jayanagar East,
Best Books, Hyderabad
Best Books was started in 1984 by Mohammed Ahmed Ali. He had worked in a book store before, and grew interested in books. Best Books began as one shop in Abids, and soon expanded into first a Lakdi-Ka-Pul shop (my favourite) and one in Secunderabad.
It stocks second-hand books – “Most of the stock comes from private collections which have been sold off,” says Mr Ali. This means, of course, that any trip to Best Books takes a minimum of two hours, and that all trips involve a lot of wading around. It also means that the collection is incredibly varied – there are a lot of classics, of course, in beautiful old hard-bound editions. You never know when you’ll find some strange or rare out-of-print book. Then there is poetry and popular fiction, children’s classics, and lots of non-fiction – books on art, on gardening, on cooking, all beautifully illustrated, with the names of previous owners written across the title pages. In the years since he’s started, says Ali, people have less time to read. Younger people, he says, seem to read a lot of popular fiction and self-help. Fewer people buy the classics these days, he adds.
What has become popular in the last few years, says Mr Ali, are comics. Best Books has always stocked a lot of comics – DC, Marvel, Amar Chitra Katha, and Indrajal. These have suddenly become collector’s items, and customers flock to buy them every time he gets a new batch. “I don’t know whether they read them,” he jokes, “but everyone now collects old comics!”
Best Book Centre at Abids
Shop No. 17, Fire Temple Complex
Opp: Abids Function Hall
Tilak Road , Abids
Hyderabad – 500001
Phone : +91 40 24761428
Best Book Centre at Lakdi Ka Pul
6-1-70/1 , First Floor
Above Tip Top Dry Cleaners
Beside Hotel Ashoka Lakdi ka Pul
Hyderabad – 500004
Phone : +9140 23235187
Best Book Centre at Secundrabad
YMCA Compound , SP Road
Secundrabad – 500003
Phone : +9140 64507798