Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Higginbothams.....What looms ahead?

Last sunday morning I managed to sketch something I've been meaning to capture for a long time now. On the arterial and busy Mount Road there has been hectic construction activity for the last couple of years as Chennai hopes to have the first phase of its Metro Rail Project up and running by year end.

Mount Road is one of the five old arterial roads radiating outward from Fort St George, it was a major road when Madras was the capital of the British colony of India and still has several old buildings on it. Hopefully the metro rail in this area will be completely underground and one hopes further that the structures put up as station entry and exit points are done sensitively keeping heritage structures in mind. One can only hope, though, as such plans are not very openly shared in the public realm in this country.

I had particularly wanted to draw this building - Higginbothams - as it is India's oldest bookshop in existence. Yes, that is right! Built in 1844, it has stood to this day housing books of all kinds and even until twenty five years ago it was the place to go to for book lovers.

Soon after it was built, Lord Trevelyan, who was the Governor of Madras wrote :
"Among the many elusive and indescribable charms of life in Madras City, is the existence of my favourite book shop 'Higginbotham's' on Mount Road. In this bookshop I can see beautiful editions of the works of Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Aristophanes, Pindar, Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Camoyens, Calderon and Racine. I can get the latest editions of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist. Amongst the German writers, I can have Schiller and Goethe. Altogether a delightful place for the casual browser and a serious book lover"

Today, digital technology, the internet, e-books, the ipad and the kindle are elbowing out the good old paperback while at the same time, over-crowded cities bursting at the seams and choked with traffic jams are trying to magically bring in the infrastructure that was never planned for.

Lets hope the metro project has been planned well. Lets hope the project is completed despite whatever the result of the next election, and lets hope it works beautifully for the citizens of this city.


  1. Wonderful to read about this oldest bookshop....maybe that's how they (the management) have also been present in almost every major Railway terminal in India.. so much so- we still have our pick up points in Central station, Chennai - as "Meet you at the Higginboths bookshop at Central"

  2. kb...Your sketch is absolutely lovely and your write-up is very informative.
    While I love many of the benefits of the net and this digital age, I think that it will be a sad day when one can't go to a bookshop to pick up and browse through books. But, judging from the present condition of Higginbothams I think we can count on its survival for a while longer.

  3. Thank you mal!! And NB and VB :) for visiting and sharing your lovely comments