Higgingbothams Book store of Bengaluru - one of the oldest book stores in India!!

Higgins Bothams book store,, Bangalore. indiatimes.com

Higgins Bothams book store,, Bangalore. indiatimes.com

The very mention of Higginbotham's Book Stores conjures up the imagination of my  olden days in the 1950s and later period till  mid 1980s and 1970s, of course, there was a big hiatus. In the early 1950s whenever my father took our family to Chennai  by train never had he failed to visit the HB's outlet on the Railway platform at Trichy or Thanjavur junctions. Invariably there were many bookstore outlets at important  railway junctions across south India, in particular, Tamil Nadu. Only once in the late 1960s  I stepped into the oldest  bookstore in Madras (Chennai) in the busy dusty arterial road, then called Mount Road. it was a beautiful building with a large hall, high ceilings and stained color glass windows.  Spic and span the books were neatly arranged under various titles and categories. In the past I did visit HB's town branch at Trichy on the Nandi kovil street  some buildings away from the popular Clive's Hostel inside the MG gate. One book outlet had  functioned  at Thanjavur railway junction for a long time since the 1950s if I remember rightly. In the past decades after 1990s it is gone.

Higgingbothams book store, bengaluru. justdial.com

Bengaluru Higging bothams book store. 
As for Bangalore branch of HB Book Store on MG road though I went past this site on a few occasions, I never went inside. Located in the prime area this oldest book-selling company has the rare distinction of serving the  elite of this city. during reign of the Princely state and  later it became part of the Indian Union. Their distinguished clientele included many high officials in the colonial period and the rulers of the royal Wadiyar family.

It is functioning in a small, but stunning colonial building with one upper floor and an impressive facade showing Greco- Roman design elements that include arched entrance and windows  and a large
pediment indicating the year of establishment. Quite incongruent in style in comparison  to other buildings in the neighborhood, no doubt, the HB building became a main attraction of  South Parade (now MG Road)..
This building had been there in the Cantonment one year prior to the spread of Bubonic plague in 1908 that resulted in the death of thousands of families. Driven by panic and fear the survivors moved away from the crowded old areas like Basavangudi, etc., and moved into  spacious airy extension areas for better health.   Only in 1905 after Plangue menace had ended for good. the HB book store started functioning  with dedication and got their own identity and recognition in the garden city. 

Founded in 1844 in Madras by Abel Joshua Higginbotham, a stowaway on a ship,  the book store became a popular one over a short period patronized by  the elite of Madras.  After a brief stint as a salesperson of the Bible to British soldiers. and then as librarian at the Wesleyan Book Depository run by missionaries(mostly Protestants), he got into the book-selling business., The  missionaries put up the bookstore for sale as they incurred losses. 
Abel Joshua,well read and educated,  armed with good knowledge of various valuable books and had work struck a deal with the missionaries and, started a book store on a shoestring  budget with limited resources.  Soon, it  developed in to a big  store and got good publicity.  The shop owner's  service was quite satisfactory and never had he  allowed his clients to leave the premises of his bookstore disappointed.  

Luck was in his favor and during the  visit of the Prince of Wales
 (future King Edward VII) in 1875 in Madras,  he gave HB  the covetous  royal seal o fapproval.  'Higginbothams & Co had the honor of being appointed booksellers to His Royal Highness, a mark of favor not conferred on any other firm of booksellers in India". The framed royal proclamation is very much on display in the Madras book store on Anna Salai (mount Road) - something the present owners - Amalgamation Group (who owe their origin to the great visionary -  late Anantharama Krishnan)  flourish with pride. The founder of this group acquired it in 1945.

IThe higginbothams Book company  became one of the largest chain of bookstores and their outlets - kiosks selling magazines, etc adorned the railway platforms of many important junctions in the south. Their branches in Bangalore and Ootacamund were equally  popular with a large readership. This is the story of  an Englishman, a stowaway (travelled to Madras from England with a ticket) who was thrown out of the ship with no penny and left stranded  to mend his ways on the streets of a strange dusty city. Undeterred he came up through dint of hard work, patience right business acumen. 

Another plus for Abel Joshua was  the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal, (often called “The Highway to India"), and it it pushed the growth of the book store because  it made the owner to import the latest publications for a more broad-based readership. The 
the establishment of the famous boarding schools and educational institutions in all the major towns of the then Madras presidency provided the book company  to cater to their educational needs.       firm expanded its reach to cater to their needs. Higginbotham's were the sole suppliers to the Connemara Public Library, Madras (now Chennai). Besides, they  became  the sole official book-supplier to government and institution. 

No doubt Messrs Higginbothams & Co was a brand the British recognised as premier in the colonial period well patronized by people of all walks of life including those Memsahibs who were fond of latest fashion and cook books from England to keep abreast of the latest developments in Europe.  

Abel Joshua, now a rich and influential man served as the Sheriff of Madras between 1888 and 1889. Uon his death in 1891, Abel's son, CH Higginbotham took control of the business and expanded it to other towns and cities  including Bengaluru where a large number of Europeans were living.  During his period the store moved over to a palatial, well designed building on Mount Road with high ceiling (to allow free air and to reduce mustiness) with minimum windows  (to avoid dust from un-metaled road in those days). One old timer, a bookworm  who visited both stores  in  Bengaluru and Chennai was nostalgic and said  ''Stepping into Higginbotham’s, the country’s oldest surviving bookshops  with colonial charm was a unique experience that takes you back to the olden days that saw far less air-pollution, din and  madding crowd. 

On February 25 2017 the heritage building that housed HB book store  was opened for business after one and half years of restoration and renovation work. To maintain irs heritage aspect, the original ceiling, flooring, etc were retained, however the interior work was redone;  so was the exterior wall that had a whitewash The 15000 sq.ft building is divided into different sections. The GF has mostly children's book, while the upper floor has book on travel, non-fiction. A section is focused on college books, etc.
In the courtyard of one of the oldest book stores in India, visitors will get to know the growth of this 100 plus year  book store and its link with the British royalty. They were the book suppliers to the Raj.  Despite competition, both the  oldest HB book stores at Chennai and Bengaluru are committed to providing  its customers with a wide selection of books - both non academic and academic, besides a variety of magazines