Book collection his passion

Bibliophile: B. Krishnamurthy, founder of Gnanalaya Research Library. — Photo:M. Moorthy

Bibliophile: B. Krishnamurthy, founder of Gnanalaya Research Library. — Photo:M. Moorthy  

‘Gnanalaya' Krishnamurthy possesses 70,000 titles

The warm smell of parchment is an aphrodisiac to him. Surely, there must be something stimulating about sitting in a high ceilinged room, walled in by majestic tomes and musty paperbacks, flipping through centuries of tales waiting to be told. When a book is opened, time stands still for B. Krishnamurthy, the proud possessor of 70,000 titles. His ‘Gnanalaya' Research Library at Tirukokarnam near Pudukottai is easily one of the biggest private libraries in the country.

Its USP is the wide collection of priceless first editions in Tamil. “First editions are special. Often, subsequent editions are shorn off the preface, forewords and valuable introductions by the author which provide rare insights that can enhance research.”

Krishnamurthy might not have read the entire collection of books, but he is well aware of what lies within their covers. “Even if I am a thousand miles away, I can tell you which rack or which row to find the book you are looking for.”

His veritable treasure trove is a sanctuary for researchers who flock from India and abroad. “My wife Dorothy and I have met almost all major Tamil writers. We have been able to add valuable inputs to any research as we know the thinking process of the author and what you may call as the other side of the story,” he smiles genially.

Gnanalaya is typical of all oaks being acorns once. The first seed for its existence was sown when Krishnamurthy at seventeen, stumbled upon ‘Swadeshi Geethangal', Subramania Bharathiyar's first self- published anthology of poems.

“I was puzzled when I discovered ‘En Maganae', a poem by Madurai Muthukumaran among Bharathiyar's poems. Later I learnt that Bharathi had called for national songs and poems from poets before publishing his anthology. It revealed Bharathi's generous spirit to acknowledge his peers.” As a book collector Krishnamurthy has the instincts of a pearl diver. For years, he has delighted in rummaging in old bookshops to unearth hidden treasures, apart from inheriting a few private collections. With both husband and wife in government service as teachers, the books were carted around every time one of them was transferred till they settled down in Pudukottai and set up ‘Gnanalaya' as a full- fledged library with their retirement benefits.

Treasured among his stack are letters of Rajaji and Thangammal Bharathi- Bharathiyar' s daughter; First editions of Bharathi and Bharathidasan, early issues of magazines like ‘Kudiarasu', ‘Viduthalai', Gandhi's Harijan and 1,500 Tamil literary magazines from 1920 onwards.

Krishnamurthy reiterates that preservation of books requires two key elements: air and light, though you could say that love is the secret ingredient that ensures the oldest of books are well preserved here. Battling escalating maintenance costs, he reveals that last year alone cost him more than 2 lakhs. Until recently, no charges were levied and the Krishnamurthys entertained visitors at home, free of cost. But today, a minimal fee for photocopying and lamination is charged. Though the library does not lend books, researchers are free to browse for hours.

Krishnamurthy is well in step with the age and believes in keeping up with the times. “With the growing popularity of e-books, we are planning to explore that option to provide greater access to researchers.” He has come up with an innovative way to record an oral narration of all the books in the library.

Post retirement, ‘Gnanalaya' has evolved into this book lover's full time fixation and he spends his days lost within the covers of his precious tomes and inviting kindred spirits to do the same.

Shared passion

Wife Dorothy Krishnamurthy shares her husband's passion for books and is highly instrumental for the growth of ‘Gnanalaya'. As Krishnamurthy lightheartedly puts it, ‘It was my books that drew her to me'. Dorothy Krishanmurthy is an avid translator and worked as Professor of Botany in various government colleges.

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