A sound body and a sound mind; so the benediction of our elders went. A great one-stop shop for acquiring some attributes helping shape and shore up both qualities is this second-hand or used-book shop cited on two floors atop the ground-floor Tip Top Dry Cleaners establishment at Lakdi-ka-Pul. The hatchways with the steep steps to be negotiated on the ascent to these floors are a great workout for the abs, thighs and legs. These might be too daunting for the elderly and the physically challenged; however there are Best ground-floor branches at Bogulkunta on the road leading from the Bata Store at Abid’s to Ramkote and on the premises of YMCA Secunderabad-where there are not more than two or three steps to negotiate. These branches are also very well-stocked so bibliophiles browsing regularly at the Lakdi-ka-Pul flagship would definitely find it worth their while to visit them too from time to time.
As for ourselves, it is from the non-fiction section on the first floor at Best, Lakdi-ka-Pul, that we have sourced most of our collection of the works of “Studs” Terkel, that astute and engaging oral documenter of the lives of ordinary Americans over more than half a century; of the outstanding British historians Eric Hobsbawm, George Rudé, James Joll, and Tony Judt; and of that wonderfully jargon-free and accessible US economist John Galbraith.
As is the case with all second-hand bookshops, if the eyes are used diligently like a scanner it is possible to salvage from the most unpromising pile something long sought-after. Among the most thrilling moments at these shops is to find a title that fills a gap in a series; completes a companion volume or volumes; or to discover great authors one had been unaware of. For instance, we have been avidly searching for titles that make up British novelist Anthony Powell’s 12-part series, collectively entitled A Dance to the Music of Time, wittily chronicling British culture and society from 1914 to 1971.
Other interesting features of these books are the inscriptions on the half-title page bearing the name of the purchaser’s and sometimes the person it is presented to, the occasion, the date and the place – and they come from all over the world, whether left behind by travellers or by once-resident foreigners who have gone back home, or from the collections of people abroad dispatched across the oceans to far-flung countries. Among the most charming ones we have bought are those with labels bearing the Latin words “Ex libris” (meaning “From the library of”); the illustration by William Blake, The Ancient of Days; and filled in with the name of the book owner; and we even have a reference work on world literature with extensively pencilled marginal notes in Chinese.
It is from Best that most of our collections of Indian and South Asian writing (in English or in English translation) have come, as also books on western music: folk, blues, traditional jazz, Big Band and Swing, soul, gospel, rock, Broadway musicals, and classical. Among the most memorable finds have been Paul Oliver’s Blues Fell This Morning and George T. Simon’s The Big Bands.
Also sourced from here was our omnibus volume of the works of the classic US crime fiction writer Dashiell Hammett and titles in the same genre by the French writer Georges Simenon; here too it was that we were introduced to the British humorists John Mortimer and Tom Sharpe, and a good many of the fascinating case histories of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks: Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat, and The Island of the Colour Blind. One of our biggest thrills was finding, after five and a half years of diligent searching, a book titled My Young Years, the first volume of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein’s memoirs, the second being My Many Years (which was the one we had bought first). This is biggest lesson of, and virtue cultivated by, bibliophilia; as the saying goes: “Sabar kaa phal meetha” (Sweet is the fruit of patience).