In Conversation with Rare Books.

There is something about the scent of old books wafting from this dimly-lit bookstore tucked away in the corner of an apartment building. While bookstores around the world are heading into the future with e-books, coffee shops and a more dynamic environment; the charm of the antiquarian bookstores cannot compare.

Mr Govindaraju was sitting around a pile of books like he has been over the last 25 years in his Garage when we visited him a fortnight ago. He has been religiously collecting books and vintage advertisements for over 40 years. He founded 'Rare Books' because of his enthusiasm and dedication in passing on his collections to people.

Is there a specific genre of books you collect at rare books? 

I have collected thousands of books on art, culture, heritage, history, geography, and literature. I also love collecting vintage children's books because of the richness of print and vivid colours.

Any story behind the first series of books you have collected?

The first set of books I collected was the early fictional publications of Penguin books. They were the cheapest books available back then which were printed in England and sent to Madras in large numbers. The colours of the books and the Penguin logo attracted me the most. They looked very nice when I stacked them together. Also, for a collector, the publication number given on the spine of the book is important. I collected atleast 600 books and sold them too. Another interesting aspect of these books was that they were reprinted works of famous authors and not necessarily original publications. Some of the most famous books are sold by this publication house.

What time of the day do you prefer reading and why? 

I don't claim to have read much. When I began collecting books, it was always a random purchase and random reading. But I always preserved them. Most of the time when I am at the bookstore I am not always reading. I will be cleaning and binding some books to maintain them and while doing that, if I come across a good book, I get curious and begin reading it to understand what it is about. I don't necessarily read all the time. But because of this routine I have come across really interesting books that have been in my possession for a long time.

What do you think about the current crop of authors?

One can never compare authors. What they write is relevant to their present or the way everything functions in the current time frame. Although I have not read fictions, I can say that even in this genre of work, authors have imbibed the behavioural patterns and climate in  the current generation or where it is headed, into manifestations. Their thinking process and style of writing will be under a lot of changes over a period of time so I cannot really give a specific comment regarding their work. 

What are your views on the Kindle & how it is revolutionising the way books are being read and collected? 

It is a different feeling when you hold a book in your hand and interact with it. For me it's like embracing a child. It has a vibration of its own. You cannot equate the feeling to an electronic device. Yet it doesn't matter in what form you read as long as you are gaining something from it. The form of reading is just a matter of opinion. The climate factor also plays a role here. In India, the climate is very hostile to books. It's more difficult to maintain books here as it also depends on the quality of print. Moreover, media has provided access to rare books which are no longer available in print. I feel it's a great opportunity to read good books.

Why collect rare books?

I didn’t start out as a collector, I was more of a reader. What you see here is a result of my appetite for reading. Later on, I began collecting books and preserving whatever I kept as my goal was to open the largest second hand book store in South India. Although, my intention was not to sell in the beginning. I began collecting and preserving books at a later stage in my life. But once I did, I realize the value of these books in print and I wanted to make sure that they are accessible to people who are interested to read.  

What aspect of rare books (such as physical/ tangible; author, any other inspiration) do you like?

I cannot choose what I like the most about books. It's all a part of me and I cannot function without books. I fall sick if I don't read and I feel attached to them. Sometimes because of this, I've kept certain books with me for years but at the end I do sell it because I cannot hold on to all of them and I want my books to go to people who are interested in reading and taking care of them.

Favourite author/ genre?

I love reading the works of Mahatma Gandhi, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Leonard Woolfe and also Nehru's Autobiography. I read books mostly on philosophy, world history and sociology. Fiction doesn't interest me much. 

Any personal collection(s) which you do not want to sell?

I have collected a few rare books which I keep for myself. I'm an admirer of Nehru and Gandhi and I have two very rare books on them. One is a 1948 first edition containing extracts from Gandhi's writings up till 1940s. The other book is a tribute to Nehru with the  words of Gandhi. These two books are very hard to find now and I prefer to keep them with me. 

Oldest book in your collection?

The oldest book I had was a copy of Harper's Magazine dating back to 1886. I kept it with me all these years but sold it a couple of days ago.

You mentioned, you have a large collection of ads spanning over 60 years. What are your top 3 favourite print advertising campaigns?  

I don't have any favourites because each has its own charm. Though I started collecting car ads first, I admire all of them because they conveyed a different message in different ways. I also used to love the humour of cartoon clippings in old advertisements

With your current collection of advertisements paper cut outs and so on, do you get a lot of organizations coming forward to collect them for their future marketing campaigns? 

Advertisements give a visual of the past history. There are advertisements of companies that are a 100 years old. A friend of mine who was about to write a book on Ashok Leyland wanted me to help as the company didn’t have much material in their archives. I had to sift through 6000 pages over one and half months to get about 50 adverts of the company. They are always interested in these archives to publish the vintage advertisements again or for research purposes.

Lastly, I am sure you couldn’t have done this alone? How important has your wife’s role been in your journey of collecting books? 

My journey with books began even before I got married. She has been supportive and she likes books too. She is very active whenever we set up a stall at a book fair is always ready to help me out. But she understands that I need my space with books. I prefer managing all this by myself.