To be etched only in memory?

BOOK ENDS: Books have always been a passion for Ramakrishna Acharya. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

BOOK ENDS: Books have always been a passion for Ramakrishna Acharya. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu  

ON ONE quiet morning, Hyderabad will perhaps lose another of its quaint old niches, the memorable old Kadambi Book Sellers beside the 142-year-old Clock Tower in Secunderabad.

Another demolition process is ready, and will take this time, the entire stretch of old establishments near Clock Tower, including Shanghai dry-cleaners. D'Souza's Cold Storage already closed down in the wake of the proposed plan and others.

"It was a bitter and cold breezy evening exactly on my 23rd birthday on November 29, 1950, the opening day of Kadambi Booksellers, a small bookshop. By 1951, Kadambi had become a modest book shop," writes Ramakrishna Acharya, founder-proprietor, in the etchings of his memories in a weather-worn printed sheet, which he shares with few people.

Today, Kadambi seems to be measuring time - wondering when the first blow will strike the old establishment.

MEASURING TIME: Another familiar landmark falls.

MEASURING TIME: Another familiar landmark falls.  

In Hyderabad, beautification has come to be synonymous with `road-widening', demolition of the old, and setting up of swanky, alienating structures in tinted glasses and other contraptions.

In this city, with leaders cherishing the desire to replicate the look of Singapore, numerous smaller, older buildings, and ones inhabited by the `lesser mortals' are bound to cause embarrassment.

Besides, who cares for smaller, unpretentious old bookshops anyway?

Kadambi had celebrated 51 years in November 2001, with a children's book exhibition, and for Ramakrishna, it was a great achievement, having built this bookshop on literally nothing but a dream, after having sold newspapers and magazines from a garage in Marredpally for years, and having worked as a clerk with the Ordnance Factory and as a radio salesman, looking after four brothers.

Ramakrishna's father Kadambi Anant Acharya - a multi-lingual person, and graduate of the Madras Presidency College, was a roving correspondent for the Reuters for some time, and associated with the Free Press Journal before joining the Quit India movement, before he finally settled as a water works engineer at Chikkadpally.

His mother was a liberated woman in her days, working as an LIC agent and driving a DKW car in more favourable times.

The Kadambi family moved from place to place - Nasik, Pune, Ujjain, Mumbai and so forth, before settling in Hyderabad.

After their mother's death, the father left home, and Ramakrishna with his artist brother Badri Narayan (now in Mumbai) simultaneously worked and studied to take care of their three younger brothers. During the World War II the two brothers were forced by circumstances to join as clerks in the Ordnance Depot in Safilguda. "We used to walk from Chikkadpally to Safilguda," Ramakrishna reminisces.

"In the evenings we were all scribbling away in the dim light of the lantern. In 1946 we resigned from the job, and spent the next two years reading books in the State Central Library in Afzalgunj." At Nizam's, where he studied, he points out "not many of my classmates were inclined towards reading; so I would provide them with magazines and books I used to get from my Mumbai contacts. I used to cycle from Secunderabad to Nizam College (incidentally, he still preserves the 1947 make Hero cycle). And slowly I started stocking newspapers in a garage in East Marredpally. Nothing sold, initially, but after ten days, a person came looking for the Illustrated Weekly (which cost 75 paise then), Femina and the Deccan Chronicle, which I had. After that first sale, my friends and I had a treat - a cup of tea at Anand Bhavan."

From a hawker, to bookshop owner, Ramakrishna traversed many a difficult terrain, thanks to his passion for the written word.

There were also people who helped him. He managed to run a business at the garage between 1948 and 1950, and moved to a radio repair shop at R.P. Road as salesman.

One day he approached F.X. D'Souza to let him rent the front portion of the present building. The bookshop started from a small area - 10 by 14 square feet - the rent paid in Hali currency (amounting to Rs. 50 a month) and with hardly 100 books.

The Radio company owner helped him with a bonus amount of 15 days; and others working there pooled in money for him to go to Mumbai to buy books.

"I have always believed in the saying `the wheels of god grind slowly, but they do grind'; and that's what keeps me going, despite many ups and downs I have faced in life from people and from my business."

Books were always his passion, and when he took it up as a business the passion showed in more ways than one.

He used to correspond with greats such as Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway and others. Film-maker Shyam Benegal used to frequent his shop too, and Acharya cherishes the letter Shyam Benegal sent him after reading a write-up on the shop.

For 76-year-old Ramakrishna Acharya, Kadambi is the only means of livelihood and in his untiring passion for stocking his shelves with the latest (including recent fads such as Feng-shui and books on astrology), he has never conceived of having a home of his own.

He still lives in a rented house, and travels by bus from home in Kachiguda.

And with his predicament is the never-answered question - as to what constitutes a beautiful city; and what constitutes heritage?

Who decides what stays and what goes in the process of developing urban centres? How many more old addresses are set to be erased from memory in this city that Quli Qutb Shah envisioned? Towards what end?


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