[BITList] The New & Second Hand Bookshop

John Feltham wulguru.wantok at gmail.com
Tue Mar 2 08:09:39 GMT 2010


Favourite haunt of booklovers BR Ambedkar, Sham Lal, Begum Para, others
NSB Is Hundred Years Old And Going Strong

Posted: Saturday, Apr 17, 2004 at 0000 hrs IST

: The New and Secondhand Bookshop (NSB) near Edward cinema at Kalbadevi road in South Mumbai has a dusty look typical of a busy bazaar haberdasher shop. But it has been a landmark on the intellectual and literary landscape of Mumbai. A favourite haunt of booklovers, NSB is celebrating its centenary this year. Sham Lal, Girilal Jain, Govind Talwalkar, Aroon Tikekar, Begum Para (Bollywood heroine of the forties), A K Priolkar, the well-known philologist and historian, T N Chaturvedi, Dr Rafique Zakaria, eminent scholar of Islam, A G Noorani, eminent lawyer and A R Antulay, veteran and learned politician were regular visitors to NSB. Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray used to send for books. The late Krishna Menon after losing his Lok Sabha seat came straight to the shop to drown his grief in good books. Dr B R Ambedkar sourced his books regularly from the shop and so did the Gandhi biographer, D G Tendulkar.

J N Ratansey, a trader in wastepaper, started NSB in 1905 in a modest 450 square ft area (900 sq ft with a mezzanine floor) that houses over a lakh books. Little did he know that it would blossom into a favourite hunting place for literati and layman, scholars and students, antiquarian book collectors and booklovers over the years. Chandrakant Mankame, manager, says, “The bookshop began with a trickle of school and college books. Slowly general books made their way into the shop. Eventually it became a place for rare books. It grew in reputation and the number of visitors increased over the years because fair price for quality books and not market driven profit has been its leitmotif all these years.”

Mankame joined the NSB when he was just 11 in 1944 and has grown with it. He says, “reading habit is on the decline among the youth. I remember even during 1944 when the war was raging many parents used to come with their children to buy books. They used to boast of their personal collections. Even the British soldiers used to drop in to buy books. Frankly, I do not blame children for the decline in reading habit as they have to cope with a massive burden of curricula that leaves them with little leisure to read books.”

Mankame remembers Dr B R Ambedkar as a regular visitor. “He rarely came to the bookshop. He used to sit in his car. I had the privilege of carrying books to him.’”

Another visitor was Acharya Rajneesh who chose mostly spiritual and religious books. Mankame remembers him as looking like an ordinary farmer. Dada Vasvani and J P Vasvani, spiritual leaders of the Sindhis, visited the shop regularly. The shop also attracted a number of Europeans, mainly Englishmen around the Second World War and in the early years after Independence. Oscar Brown, a judge in Small Causes Court used to visit the shop. He spoke in staccato Marathi. Begum Para, the heroine of the forties and fifties, was the only Bollywood heroine to visit the shop.

Dr Aroon Tikekar, a scholar and authority on Mumbai, boasts of around 3,000 rare books mostly on British India and British Presidency. His search for antiquarian books began when he was collecting material on Charles and Dennis Kincaid, the father-son ICS officials for doctoral thesis. He continues to visit the shop even today.

Only NSB and Prabhu & Co, Gurgaon are surviving through trying times while Kokil & Co, Alva & Co, Philip & Co in Mumbai and New Order Book Co in Ahmedabad, other antiquarian book shops have folded up.

Tikekar remembers M C Chagla and D G Tendulkar among many distinguished visitors to NSB. He met a certain Adenwalla Joshi who used to debunk C D Deshmukh as lacking in understanding nuances of Sanskrit language which he studied through English like S Radhakrishnan. When Adenwalla brought out a definitive edition of Shakespeare’s plays he had to approach Deshmukh for a foreword in English! Tikekar’s collection has a few jewels. Periplus volume 1 belongs to the 18th century, miniature Shakespeare bound in shamoy leather has become a collector’s item. Among his possessions are Mountsuart Elphinstone’s 1817 account Territory conquered from the Peshwas John Wilson’s Indian Caste, Kursondas Mulji’s Sect of Maharaja anonymously presented by him to Dadabhoy Naoroji, Poona and its surroundings published in 19th century and History of Advertising published in 1907.

NSB stocks over a lakh titles; about 80 per cent being secondhand and the rest new ones. Mostly books on history, literature, biographies, psychology, religion, philosophy, art and general books dominate the subject spectrum. Some titles still dazzle the booklovers. Indian Empire in three volumes is a rare title; so is Roman Empire by H Stuart Jones with illustrations, maps published in 1903. Other titles include: Ryland Johnson’s Life of Milton and Dryden (1895), H G Keene’s History of India (1918), John Marshall’s A Guide to Sanchi with illustrations and maps (1918), Alexander Dow’s The History of Hindostan in three volumes (1812), Richard Clark’s Regulations of the Government of Bombay in force at the end of 1850 (1881), Major General J G R Foslong’s Short Studies in the science of Comparative Religions of Asia with maps and illustrations (1897), J Forbes Royale’s Fibrous Plants of India (1855), The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, in three volumes, 1711 and Thomas Keighlly’s The Bucolicks and Georgics of Virgil (1847) is a small sample to illustrate the point.

Hassan Mardhani, (whom Mankame acknowledges as his guru) and an expert in antiquarian books retired from the shop in 1984. He was extremely liberal in pricing books and called them goddess ‘Saraswati’s gifts’. He used to slash prices to suit the pockets of the poor and genuine buyers. He used say, “I am serving Saraswati.” Mankame, the present manager, has imbibed the same spirit. Profit matters but not at the cost of human bond that has tied the shop to hundreds of booklovers.

Trade in rare books has been on the decline over the years. In the early years after Independence, in the first flush of anger against India, many Englishmen sold their collections in hundreds in India. When reason returned and interest in India as an area of specialisation resurged, particularly its relationship with Britain revived, there was a flurry of demand for books on India. The Shop used to get books from the personal libraries of the old booklovers whose progeny were not keen on retaining them. The cascading supply of rare books has come to a trickle today. Identifying and pricing of rare books is an art in itself. Much depends on the date of publication, originality of edition, number of copies published, the status of the author, the quality of binding, pictorials, engravings, golden embossing etc matter a lot in the pricing of rare books. There is a distinct trend towards getting out-of-print books. Yet there is no doubt that few shops can beat NSB in affordability of prices.

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