CHENNAI: The owner of the legendary ‘Open Book Shop’ -- popularly known as Alwar Kadai -- in Mylapore, R K Alwar, passed away on Friday due to age-related ailments. He was 95, said family members. The man who started the trend of selling old and rare books five decades ago on a small pavement on Luz Church Road will be sorely missed by locals.
As Alwar had been bed-ridden for the past five years, his wife Mary was tending to the book shop which always got a steady stream of visitors every day. After her death in January, the shop came under the care of their four daughters. “The daughters will continue taking care of the shop. We have no plans to shut it down. He was very passionate about this shop and never saw it as a business. So the shop will be open for all as always in his memory,” said a family member.
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Mylaporeans will miss the sight of the nonagenarian with a flowing white beard, sitting next to heaps and heaps of old and rare books. His makeshift book shop was a haven for bibliophiles and had become a landmark over the years. People who approached his shop for books of any genre never returned home empty-handed. The secret behind his wide variety of books was to collect them from houses in the neighbourhood.
“Many Tamil poets and personalities from the film industry used to regularly visit his shop back in the 1980s. Bharathidasan, Jaishankar, Cho Ramaswamy, S Ve Sekar and many others were his faithful customers. People who could afford to buy books from Higginbothams and Landmark also used to come here as Alwar had books that had long gone out of print,” said Baskar Seshadri, a resident who used to be Alwar’s customer.
Apart from customers who thronged the place from the city, students from Madurai, Trichy and Coimbatore used to travel from their hometowns to buy academic books at cheap rates.
Alwar, who was born and brought up in Vaniyampalayam in Villupuram, worked as a light boy at a film studio for a brief time, said his daughter Ammu. “My father arrived in the city from Rameswaram when he was 15, worked in a hotel, and started collecting old school books to sell them as a hobby. He did many odd jobs before he started collecting second-hand college and school books. Though the corporation has attempted to chase us off from the pavements over the years, he refused to budge,” she said.
His mortal remains will be kept at a relative’s house at 41/48, Nachiappan Street, Mylapore till 3pm on Saturday.