Rather than an exotic locale, VR Ferose, 37, the MD of SAP Labs India, would much rather be in Shimla or some other unhurried hill station. Edited excerpts from an interview
What has been taking you to Shimla?
I am intrigued by all hill stations. I was in Delhi for two and a half years before I moved to Bangalore. I have been to all the usual suspects: Mussoorie, Nainital and Shimla. In many ways they are all similar and my attraction to them is explained by the fact that I am a lazy person. I wouldn’t go for a holiday that requires too much work. The idea is to relax. I am the last person at the breakfast table, after which I go around and see a few places. But what I typically do is go hunting for book stores.
What sort of book stores?
For more than a decade I have been travelling looking for book stores. The best books are found in the rarest of places. If you read a Lonely Planet, or any travel book, they will not tell you where to find a book store. My search is to find nice and quaint book stores. All three hill stations seem to have good book stores. I guess it has something to do with the fact that there are 20-25 famous authors who have settled in these places. They even have something like a Woodstock for writers. In Mussoorie there is the Cambridge book store, where Ruskin Bond sits.
Collection drive: (clockwise from top) The Mall in Shimla (photograph by Sandeep Sahdev/Hindustan Times); the Maria Brothers store stocks an original copy of the American Declaration of Independence; and Ferose and his wife, Deepali Kulkarni, both collect books (photographs by VR Ferose).
Is there a favourite in Shimla?
Maria Brothers book store has a huge collection of rare books, some of which are worth lakhs of rupees, but it is really a small corner shop. They became famous because they have one of the 27 copies of the American Declaration of Independence printed in June 1776. Obviously, it’s not for sale, but it is an indication of what else one might find there. I saw some rare books there, and bought a priceless signed copy of Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography.
Book stores, is that all you do? What about family?
I walk around the place, and try to find the circle of people who know these things. I also look out for funny signs, which India has plenty of. I could write a book on the funny ones I have seen. When I go with family, I have to do the touristy stuff. My wife collects books too, but we don’t buy the same books, so we spend twice the amount. Her idea would be to read the oldest version—say, the first edition of an Agatha Christie. If you want a sense of history, you should read old ones.
What other stores have interested you?
I recently spent two weeks in London. I spent almost all my free time at JW McKenzie. It’s a book store that specializes in cricket books. I spent 6 hours there every day. When I was in Germany, I went to a place where Helmut Kohl used to live. It was his village. This store was close to his house so he put a few copies of his signed autobiography in there. It’s in German so I have never read it.
How do you know if the book is rare?
If you are a collector, you have to know what is genuine and what is not. The book-store owner in this case is your best friend. Of course, you have to do your groundwork, as with any investment. It can be a full-time job. A collection can possibly have no end. So collectors make it finite. For example, I have started collecting books signed by Nobel Peace Prize winners. I once had someone offer me (Rabindranath) Tagore’s Gitanjali, signed, for Rs10,000. At that time I didn’t have the money. I got a Mahatma Gandhi book signed by (S.) Radhakrishnan for just Rs500, and (Jawaharlal) Nehru’s The Discovery of India, signed in the year 1947, for Rs15,000 at Select book store in Bangalore.
As told to Pavitra Jayaraman