A Book Lover’s Paradise Tucked Away in a Garage in Chennai 

A Book Lover’s Paradise Tucked Away in a Garage in Chennai 

India

I was walking down the busy road of RA Puram in Chennai looking for a quaint bookstore located in the garage of a building, that houses the rarest of books – first editions, magazines and advertisements dating back to 1930s - but not many know about it.

A silver painted door welcomed me inside with the words ‘Rare Books’ and ‘Sale’ written on a scrap of paper, stuck to the door. I opened the door to see an 82-year old man sitting on a wooden chair, engrossed in a book. A warm smile spread across his face as I greeted him and he allowed me to bask in the musty smell of old hardbacks and paperbacks before asking me what I had come looking for.

No order in this beautiful chaos.
No order in this beautiful chaos.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

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Started by Govindaraju’s father in 1955, Rare Books is a collectors’ paradise - but nothing like your regular Landmark or Starmark bookstores.

No automatic glass doors, alphabetically arranged books or air-conditioned spaces greet you at Rare Books, instead, all you find is an odd assortment of books resulting in a beautiful chaos.

The books are all piled up and only Govindaraju knows which one’s where, but he doesn’t want any helper as he believes the pleasure of finding a book is sometimes even greater than reading it.

“During the entry itself (some) rub their noses, seeing how dusty it is in here. But one day I found a sophisticated woman; she stood before my desk and took a deep breath. I was wondering what is it that she is doing and then she said she liked the smell of this place,” said an amused Govindaraju.

Govindaraju’s latest obsession is collecting vintage advertisements. He takes the painstaking effort to cut each one of them and laminate so as to present it when the rightful buyer comes along. 
Govindaraju’s latest obsession is collecting vintage advertisements. He takes the painstaking effort to cut each one of them and laminate so as to present it when the rightful buyer comes along. 
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
Rare Books has close to 5,000 books of every genre - literature, history, philosophy, culture, heritage, arts and a 100 century-old books.

He boasts of owning the entire Penguin Books collection including the first edition of Ariel by Andre Maurois published in 1935. First editions, personal diaries, hundreds of National Geographic magazines, every edition of Ananda Vikatan, Ponniyin Selvan, minutes of Congress meetings from 1930s – he has them all at throw away prices.

And who do you think are his dealers? Kabaddi wallahs!

He usually travels in a bus and when he spots a stack of books outside any of the kabaddi wallah shops , he gets off at the next stop and buys the entire collection from them.

The kabaddi wallahs tear off the hardcover. The best books are in hardcover you know. It felt as if someone was tearing my entire body when I saw him tearing. I simply shouted at him saying ‘stop it. I’ll take it’.
Govindaraju, Owner at Rare Books

Today, the kabaddi wallahs in his area are his best friends who supply him with treasures people throw away, not knowing the worth.

Also Read: Read Your Way Through India: These Old Libraries Won’t Disappoint

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Ask Govindaraju, and he will tell you the complete background story of that book or author or advertisement. 
    Ask Govindaraju, and he will tell you the complete background story of that book or author or advertisement. (Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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    Govindaraju’s recent obsession is collecting vintage advertisements and old film posters.
    Govindaraju’s recent obsession is collecting vintage advertisements and old film posters.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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Govindaraju’s recent obsession is collecting vintage advertisements and old film posters.
    Govindaraju’s recent obsession is collecting vintage advertisements and old film posters.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
  • 09
    Ask Govindaraju, and he will tell you the complete background story of that book or author or advertisement.
    Ask Govindaraju, and he will tell you the complete background story of that book or author or advertisement.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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    Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. 
    Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. (Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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    Govindaraju’s entire cartoon collection was bought by popular cartoonist Keshav.
    Govindaraju’s entire cartoon collection was bought by popular cartoonist Keshav.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.
    His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. 
    Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. (Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
  • 04
    His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.
    His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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    He is a proud owner of the entire collection of the Penguin books, including the first edition published in 1935.
    He is a proud owner of the entire collection of the Penguin books, including the first edition published in 1935.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
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His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.
    His passion for history makes him stay away from anything that is fiction, except for classics.(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
  • 01
    

Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. 
    Once you step into this store, you forget the chaos of the outside world and can snuggle in a corner with a book in hand and a librarian who can entertain you with stories about every book in the shelf. (Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
Rare Books used to house a much bigger collection — almost 20,000 books — which an avid collector bought in its entirety about five years ago.

Since his passion was still at an all-time high, he started from scratch all over again.

One thing Govindaraju prides himself on is his collection of vintage print ads. Preserved from the 1950s, you can find old newspaper ads for transmitter radios, camera equipment, sarees and anything else you can possibly think of. You can also trace the advertising history of many conglomerates such as L&T, Coca Cola, Lakshmi Mills etc.

Govindaraju holds in his hand an advertisement announcing a fund-raiser recital of MS Subbulakshmi at Kapaleeshwarar temple in Chennai.
Govindaraju holds in his hand an advertisement announcing a fund-raiser recital of MS Subbulakshmi at Kapaleeshwarar temple in Chennai.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

Whether its puzzles, riddles, magazines, essays or cartoons, Govindaraju assures he has them all tucked away somewhere in the mess in his store. His cartoon collection created by the likes of India’s favourite RK Laxman, World War II political cartoonist David Low and British satirist Ronald Searle, was entirely bought by popular cartoonist Keshav.

Keshav, is a very popular cartoonist for The Hindu and is known to be one of the finest in the industry. He bought the entire cartoon collection from Govindaraju.
Keshav, is a very popular cartoonist for The Hindu and is known to be one of the finest in the industry. He bought the entire cartoon collection from Govindaraju.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

Also Read: What Makes an Indian Bestseller? Secrets Beyond Chetan Bhagat & Co

Govindaraju has several copies of ‘Harijan’ - the weekly newspaper that Gandhi began publishing in 1933. Journals such as Modern Review from 1919, copies of Illustrated Weekly, 1964 edition of Malayala Manorama which has a portrait of Nehru by 20th century artist Norman Rockwell and ‘Life’ magazines from 1914-1984 jostle for space on the shelves.

If you wish to check out this paradise, swing by Rare Books at 45/50, Second Main raod, R A Puram, Chennai - 28 or leave a message on 044-24936052/ 09941132756/ renuka_govindaraju@yahoo.com

Video Producer: Vivek Das
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

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