“My hobby has made me poorer by the penny, but richer by the experience,” says V R Ferose, managing director of SAP Labs India. An avid reader and a collector of rare autographed copies, acquiring books became a hobby for Ferose at the age of 25. But when he realised he had no space to store them, he confined himself to collecting rare autographed original books. While this made redundant the issue of storage space, it created a substantial hole in his pocket – something Ferose laughs about, till date.
Owning a rare book certainly can be a humbling as well as an exhilarating experience and Ferose understands that only too well. His vacation agendas include a mandatory visit to bookstores, especially the old, quaint ones selling second-hand books. He owns around 3,000 books on various topics including fiction, non-fiction, business, sports, biographies, history and cartoon. His most prized possession was given to him by a book collector, who parted with a signed first edition of Don Bradman’s Farewell to Cricket.
Based in Bengaluru, Ferose’s routine at SAP Labs includes driving innovation, delivering operational efficiencies and customer focus initiatives. He talks to us about his favourite leisure activity – collecting rare autographed books.
How do you search for rare books?
It requires considerable patience and time and can be expensive too. I scout bookstores that sell old books and get help from friends and acquaintances, who are familiar with my hobby. The bookstore owner is also one of the best resources. Besides this, many author-friends have given me interesting hints and helped me to network.
My favourite holiday destinations in India include Mussoorie, Nainital and Shimla, which is possibly because these hill stations have some excellent book stores. Shimla’s Maria Brothers has a large collection of rare books; some of them are priceless. It is a very small corner shop. It became famous as it has one of the 27 copies of the American Declaration of Independence printed in June 1776. Obviously, it is not for sale but an indication of what one might find there. I have been fortunate in picking up some rare books there like the copy of Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography. Mussoorie has the Cambridge bookstore which also stocks many rare books. Incidentally, The Picador Book of Cricket, an addict’s archive, an anthology and a tribute to the finest writers on cricket by cricket historian Ramachandra Guha, fuelled my desire to collect books of the authors he had mentioned. This became an obsession and it took me over five years to complete the collection. This journey has taken me from Bengaluru’s second-hand bookstores to London’s JW McKenzie, a bookseller specialising in cricket.
Do you take extra care in preserving these books?
Of course, I do. I preserve them very carefully in a wooden trunk. Some of the most expensive and rare books are stored away in a locker for safety reasons.
Do you encourage family/colleagues to join you in your hobby?
Yes, I do. In fact, my wife is a bibliophile too. However, we don’t buy the same books, so we spend twice the amount of time and money on books. She goes after first editions – for example, the first edition of Agatha Christie. If you want to get a sense of history, you should read old prints. I also make it a point to gift books for various occasions.
Do you have any memorable experiences while pursuing this hobby?
I got a copy of the first edition of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography The Story of my Experiments with Truth. The book is a 1927 edition in Marathi and I got it for just Rs. 750. I also got a copy of The Mahabharata for Rs. 350, signed by R.K. Narayan from my favourite bookstore, Select in Bengaluru.
Have you ever been inspired to write your own book?
Yes, I do have a couple of book ideas that I am pursuing. I expect to take another two years to complete. I also write an internal blog regularly.
How has book reading helped you on a personal level?
I am not much into self-help books but books like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus helped me understand the other half.
How has book reading helped you on a professional level?
Many business books have helped me in my job. I believe every book has some takeaway; however, the takeaways are different for different people. It depends on an individual’s state of mind.
Who is your favourite author?
Ramchandra Guha, Shashi Tharoor and Malcomn Gladwell.
Which is your favourite book?
There are many. Some memorable ones include Riot by Shashi Tharoor, Love Story by Eric Segal and Tipping Point by Malcomn Gladwell.
What is the type of books you like to read?
I like both fiction and non-fiction. However, I tend to read more of non-fiction books on business, history and biographies.
Have you ever bought books that were auctioned?
Yes, I have. Most of the times through online auction sites like eBay.
How often do you read books?
I read books whenever I have the time. While travelling in my car or on a flight, when I get short breaks between meetings or a few minutes before going to bed.
How many days do you take to complete a book?
I am a cursory reader and I read five to six books at a time. Normally, I read four to five books in a month.
How often do you add to your collection?
Once or twice a month.
What was the latest addition and when was it?
Perestroika signed by Michael Gorbachev (Nobel Prize for Peace – 1990) – bought online.
A House for Mr. Biswas – signed book by VS Naipaul (Nobel Prize for Literature – 2001) – got it during the recent ‘Think Fest’ in Goa.
Do you like to browse in a bookstore, or buy through online stores?
I like to browse various bookstores and buy the rarest books. I do buy new books online; they are good because of the discounts they offer.
Do you visit libraries in your city?
Not really, as my work schedule does not permit it. I prefer to buy books and read them.
What did you most gain from pursuing this hobby?
A wealth of knowledge.
Can you list the rare autographed books in your collection?
- Ed Hillary’s Ascent to the Top
- Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography
- Helmut Kohl’s autobiography (in German)
- Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India signed in the year 1947
- Ruskin Bond’s books – met him at Mussorie and got eight books signed by him
- Jeffrey Archer’s books – met him at Gurgaon and got 10 books signed
- The Mahabharata signed by R.K. Narayan
- Wings of Fire by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
- Three Songs signed by W.B. Yeats (rarest book I own)
- Mahatma Gandhi by S. Radhakrishnan
Some other famous autographed books include those of Former Prime Minister John Mayor, Nobel Prize winners Amartya Sen, Shirin Ebadi, Jimmy Carter Michael Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama.