For an increasing number of visitors to Bangalore and those who love to read, no trip is complete without a visit to the bookshops of Church Street and adjacent roads in the heart of the city.
Over the last few decades, enterprising booksellers, most of whom started as footpath book and magazine sellers, have built establishments that have become destinations of their own. They sell books old and new, famous and rare, and at every bookshop, it’s the book that will pick you instead of the other way round, opening new worlds that you never knew existed. After all, that’s what bookshops everywhere in the world do. Except that bookshops seem to be receding everywhere and from our attention in this noisy, cluttered world.
On a recent visit to cold and rainy Bangalore (I live in Navi Mumbai), I did the usual rounds of the shops on Church Street before noticing a colourful sign in a cul-de-sac next to my father’s home. He lives in the relatively lesser-known suburb called Sanjaynagar. The relatively fresh-looking sign read Bahuroopi Book Hub in Kannada and English and looked out of place behind a brightly lit shop called ‘Indian Sweet Mart’. It occupied a multi-storey house painted different from the rest in the footpath-less lane. It was the last thing to expect in a place with one neighbourhood circulating library called Vinay Circulating Library in the 80s that closed without people noticing sometime in the 90s. The local branch of new-age Just Books that services this locality is located a little away from Sanjaynagar.
Little things make the most significant difference in bookshops, and they revealed themselves one by one as I walked up the narrow stairs to the Bahuroopi bookshop on the first floor.
They are not just a bookshop and a cafe; Bahuroopi is also a publisher. It has a table with books in Kannada that they had published that you first encounter inside.
While browsing through the books, Dheeraj, one of the establishment’s founders, walked and surprised me with a greeting. We got talking, and he told me they were relatively young, born during the pandemic. However, they had started publishing a couple of years earlier, and looking at the number of books with their name on them, they have been prolific.
While they publish primarily in Kannada, they also print books in English. One of the things I learned from him was that they sell most of their books online, directly or through e-commerce sites. People do walk in, and usually through word of mouth. They also have a place where people can sit and read as much as they want. I wouldn’t mind sitting there on a cold day with a hot cup of coffee. They also have cultural activities in the space that should attract more people to this corner of North Bangalore.
I must admit that I do not read Kannada books, which I can read but not fast enough. However, I started listening to Kannada audiobooks during the pandemic, and it was a world that was slowly revealing itself to me, one book at a time. Looking at the titles and the book covers laid out on the table felt like stepping into a new place that held many secrets and stories and waiting to be explored. I picked up a book in Kannada book to improve my reading speed and transition to the written word.
Meanwhile, my observations here should be seen as first impressions of a tourist in a new location.
- Like books in other Indian languages, Kannada book covers have a design language that preserves something that’s uniquely us. We have a visual language as strong as our oral and written expressions.
- Almost all of Bahurooopi’s books have illustrations on the cover or inside them to break the words
- Their best selling Kannada book nad words in a shade of green and not the usual black ink
- Very young writers wrote a good percentage of the books though they had books by well-known older Kannada thinkers and writers
The book shop has two levels. They have an excellent collection of books in English. Their English collection would be as good as the ones in the bigger bookshops in Mumbai. The selection of titles is also excellent and caters to all tastes. They also have a room with books for children. Since it is not on a famous high street, they do not have the section for gifts and toys like some bookstores that probably need them to increase footfalls and make ends meet. What they do have is beverages, snacks and a place to sit and read quietly.
PS: If you visit Bahuroopi, don’t forget to add the name of your favourite authors of books on the pillars or walls of the bookstore.