Faithful few keep old world library going

Old-timers of Malleshwaram area cannot ‘not know’ this simple library, on Sampige Road, Malleshwaram (between 2nd and 3rd Cross). It has been there since 1951.  69-year-old G R J Gupta, has part of this library since he was nine-years-old. Though it started as a small store selling grocery, vegetables, fruits, milk, badam milk and condiments, newspapers, magazines and books, it was later converted into a full fledged library. “My father, who was a very well-known goldsmith and called the Gold King of Chennai, suddenly relocated to Bangalore in 1951.  I was just 9 years old then.  I do not know the reasons behind his sudden decision” says Gupta.

Gupta Library – just as it was. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

G R J Gupta’s elder brother G R P Gupta was just eleven years old then.  In 1952, their father passed away, leaving the two young boys, to take care of the family consisting of their mother and six sisters.  Since then, the Gupta brothers started running the business with total dedication.  They got the sole distributorship for the Times of India, Bombay, Udayavani Group, Manipal, Pesum Padam of Chennai, Chitralaya of Hyderabad and many leading magazines of those years, for the entire city of Bangalore under the name of Gangavaram Agency.  Thus, eventually, the brothers started concentrating on the newspapers, magazines and books and gave up the other parts of the business.

“I used to wake up at 3.30 in the morning, cycle over 50 kilometres a day, supplying the newspapers and magazines to the various agents right from Indiranagar/Ulsoor area to the Jalahalli area in north Bangalore.  Then I would go to the shop and help my brother for some time.  After that, I would get ready and go to RBANM School in Ulsoor on foot”, recollects Gupta.

Gupta Library – just as it was. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

The brothers then started collecting books and set up the Gupta Circulating Library in 1965.  They had collections in English, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali languages.  V V Giri, the ex-President, was then the Governor of Karnataka; his family members would visit Gupta Library to borrow Telugu books, as it was almost the only place with Telugu collections.  The library eventually grew and stocked nearly 25,000 books (mostly fiction) and the membership almost reached one thousand. 

How is it that the Guptas took interest of setting up a library, when they themselves are not very highly educated or from that background?  “It is simply that we started dealing in newspapers and magazines for livelihood and then took a liking to literature.  I have read a lot of Kannada and Telugu books, though my formal education stopped with SSLC from Seshadripuram School”, says Gupta.

The Gupta Circulating Library even had branches in Basavangudi, Jayanagar, Hanumanthanagar, Ulsoor and other localities.  There were forty dedicated workers, who supplied books and magazines to the various libraries.  The brothers continued their hard work and distributed newspapers for nearly 45 years.  Later on the concept of sole distributorship changed and so did the style of business of the Guptas.  The brothers split up and G R J Gupta set up the circulating library near the present spot, which was rented out to him by Shrungar Nagaraj, the producer of the famous Kamala Hassan starrer ‘Pushpaka Vimana’. Ten years ago, the Gupta Circulating Library shifted to its present premises owned by Dr Mohan Rao. 


“I am lucky that my landlords have been very nice to me.; What you see today is just 25% of what the library was a few years ago!  I surrendered 75% of the space to the landlord, as my business came down.  I sold off nearly 20,000 books.  Now I have just around 5000 books and 500 members” says Gupta.

A V Srinivasan, patron for 23 years. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

A V Srinivasan, patron for 23 years. Pic: Sudha Narasimhachar.

Gupta’s son is employed with TCS, Chennai and his daughter is married to a grain merchant in the city.  Now, Gupta and his wife Parimala run this small circulating library only for the sake of keeping themselves engaged constructively and serving the few regular customers, who loyally frequent the library.  A V Srinivasan, brother of Sowmyanarayanan, Vice President at Raheja Group says, “My brother and I are members of this library since 1987.  Mr Gupta is very soft-spoken, patient, polite and honest.  His service is excellent.  We come here all the way from 11th Cross, Malleswaram only because of him”.

Gupta remembers having cycled to the homes and offices of well known city personalities like Ramakrishna Hegde (the late Chief Minister of Karnataka), Magadam (ex-Chief Engineer), Sadashivanagar Club, Malleswaram Club, among others, to supply magazines and books.  He proudly remembers how they were the only suppliers of Economic Times, which was much in demand amongst businessmen and politicians. 

“There are many customers who frequented our library until their last breath like Late Sri R Shamanna of Kiran Electricals and Madam Satyavathi, whose grandchildren are still my clients.  Generations after generations have stuck to our library”.

No wonder the couple loves to spend their day in the library, though their son and daughter-in-law want them to come to Chennai.  Lot of wonderful memories and fond wishes of well-wishers prevent them from leaving Malleswaram. Even though, the library which once helped the Gupta brothers get their six sisters married and lead comfortable lives, yields hardly fifteen thousand to twenty thousand rupees a month, Pramila Gupta and Gupta run it, coming all the way from Devaiah Park on their two-wheeler.

“Bangalore and Malleswaram, in particular have changed by leaps and bounds.  Bangalore was then a heaven and is almost a hell today because of this haphazard, unchecked development.  My heart bleeds when I see Malleswaram fifth cross, which once was home for hundreds of huge trees and thousands of birds and insects, crying today as a barren stretch of (traffic) choked road.  Yet, when compared to other cities, Bangalore is still my favourite city.  I will carry on here, as long as I can.”

The Guptas have no complaints about the depleting reading habit.  They feel it is because of the advent of TV, computers, cell phones and so many other modern gadgets. All the 500 odd members of the library do not visit the library regularly.  Most regular are the Tamilian housewives.  Today, the library offers just English, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu books and magazines.

G R J Gupta can be contacted on 23566459 between 9.30 am and 2.30 pm or 5.30 pm and 9.30 pm on all days, except Sunday.

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About Sudha Narasimhachar 38 Articles
Sudha Narasimhachar is a retired banker and freelance writer based in Bengaluru.