Under my byline

History books

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 15 December 2007

Ram Advani Booksellers is a Lucknow institution, and so is its owner

Hazratganj in Lucknow used to be the place to see and be seen. Patronised by the aristocracy and the upper classes, it was a centre of culture, commerce and conversation.

Ram Advani Booksellers is a Hazratganj landmark, and the eponymous owner is held in great esteem and affection by generations of readers and scholars, who have been customers and friends. Now in his 80s, Ram Advani stills runs the bookshop.

“When I migrated to Lucknow (in May 1947), I was [temporarily] given a small portion in Gandhi Ashram to run a book shop by Congress President Acharya Kripalani. It so happened that Mr Larkins, the manager of Lawrence & Mayo, Lucknow, casually told me that they were winding up in Lucknow. The shop was allotted to me.”

Advani wasn’t new to the business. “My grandfather (mother’s side) ran a chain of bookshops in north Punjab. In 1946 I was in charge of his bookshop at Lahore and in mid-1947, I had to leave Lahore [for India]. The Lucknow shop was opened on 15 February 1948. I bought the shop from my maternal uncle in 1951 and called it Ram Advani Booksellers.”

Setting up a bookshop was not easy, but “With my experience of book selling, I had gained confidence. Luckily, Lucknow University in those days had a high reputation. [Noted professors] and others helped me to build up stocks in social sciences. I remember all of them fondly and with great respect.”

His profile as a bookseller was thus established. “I found Lucknow a good market in this area. I did cater to medical, science and other areas but kept stock mostly in sociology, anthropology, economics and literature. We did get a small quantity of bestsellers, but never dabbled in fiction.”

Has the crassness of UP politics hurt Lucknow’s intellectual tradition? “Lucknow has always been a political centre,” says Advani. “Simultaneously, it is a great centre for research. The interest in art and culture continues despite setbacks. On the whole, Lucknow enjoys a good readership.”

Advani’s oldest customer is “the House of Raja Sahib Mahmudabad. I feel proud that I am serving the fourth generation.”

But the future is not in his hands: “My son, Rukun Advani [an independent publisher in Delhi] will inherit it and it will be up to him to carry on.”

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