On the iconic Mount Road (now Anna Salai), that winds from the southern, mountain end of Madras to the northern, bay end, stands a precious vintage jewel. And like all things Madras, this landmark too carries the weight of its grand history without much fuss.

India’s oldest book store, one of the oldest and largest bookshops in operation in the world, Chennai’s very own Higginbothams, is an underrated gem, and deserves a bit more of celebrity than has been accorded by the Indian literary establishment (whatever that means).

My own memories of Higginbothams are inextricably linked to those long, maddeningly hot summer months growing up. A pitstop, especially at the railway station branch, to pick up Tinkle, Archies, Champak and Gokulam, before rushing to the berth and lying down with a book under the whirring fan was a ritual as well as a treat. When my first book came out last year, it was a great thrill rushing to the store to see it out front on the new arrivals table, on the chequered black and white original standing on old flooring. By old, I mean pretty old.

Early days

In the year 1843, when the Wesleyan Mission in Madras found its Christian literature business a little less than...

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