A collectors’ corner called Maria Brothers in Shimla

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Being just a book lover is not enough to be at Maria Brothers. One must be a collector who loves to smell century-old books shelving at this antique bookshop located on Mall Road in Shimla. Rajiv Sud, owner, Maria Brothers retraces the inheritance treasured behind this rich repository of rarest books in a freewheel conversation with Jyaneswar Laishram from All About Book Publishing. This is largely out of passion. I’m not into much inclination for making money out of this, replies Rajiv when asked why Maria Brothers is going in its offbeat way of selling books that any common person may hardly come down to pick one. Tracing back to the eve of India’s independence, he mentions his father OC Sud, who was a geographer, started the bookstore in 1946. The collection of around 8,000 books at this treasure trove is predominantly on history and travels, along with some random titles on literature, philosophy and legends. “Our main focus is on topics related to the Indian Himalaya, western Tibet, Sikkim, Nepal and other hilly geographies,” mentions Rajiv.

The collection

“My father never imagined he would someday open such an antique bookstore. All it started when he purchased a tome containing a timeless parchment inside, which was one of the few surviving copies of Thomas Jefferson’s The American Declaration of Independence drafted in June 1776. This was how Maria Brothers unveiled,” remembers Rajiv adding, “My involvement in the business is more or less a hobby cum passion. Then this bookstore has a sentimental value for me because my father started it.” Deeper observation of the shelves around at Maria Brothers may reveal a treasure of oldest books a human being can ever preserve.

Some of the precious titles in the collection comprise John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (1894 edition with illustration by Gustaue Dore); 10 Volumes of Kathasaritsagara (1940 edition) translated in English; Sir Richard Buron’s 16 volumes of Arabian Nights (1880 edition) and oldest on the shelves is perhaps the OOST-Indise Voagien written by Johan Mildenhal and F Cartwright in 1706, which is in Dutch describing the authors’ respective visits to Persia and Mughal empire. India and Its Princes by M Griffith (1894 edition) and John Gilbert’s illustrated Complete Works of Shakespeare (1850 edition) are among the priceless copies at the store.

Priceless pieces

Hours of browsing the shelves of Maria Brothers may bring more to be contended for attention. Antiques in this store include a bit beyond books. The walls of the store are donned with old maps, paintings, artefacts and musical instruments belonged to India, Burma (Myanmar), Tibet, dating back to nearly a century. “Some paintings drawn by British painters, who were settled in Shimla before independence, are still in the collection. And most of the musical instruments are of Indian and Tibetan origins,” indicates Rajiv. Some of the antique maps include map of Rangoon in 1910 as well as one of India drawn in 1931.

Though the artefacts, maps, musical instruments and books in the store are all on sale, collectors at Maria Brothers may feel themselves a bit upset when they find around 10-15 precious books are labelled ‘Not For Sale’. Arya Astha Sahasrikas Parajna Paramita, one of the rarest in the collection, is an Indian medical text compiled in Tibetan script in around 16th century, but not for sale. Rajiv says those who drop in at the store are just scholars and collectors, as well as some curious visitors who come down to see what the shop is all about. “But the trend of collectors among Indians has actually been increasing over the last ten years,” he observes.

Future step

A next big thing one can see in the near future is Maria Brothers coming online. “We are planning to put up most of our collection on net. Even we will produce reprints of the old titles for which we don’t have old replacement,” mentions Rajiv.

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