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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Danish Mahal: An Urdu bookshop in Lucknow

Cities change with time and citizens often rue the transformation. The reason is that most of us are nostalgic about our past [childhood] and we like things to remain same.

Like most Indian cities, Lucknow is also changing. It has malls, chains of food joints and cineplexes. But for those who remember the Lucknow of yore, the loss could be heartrending.

I too miss a lot on my visits but there are some landmarks that give me the feeling that I am in Lucknow. One of them is, of course, Danish Mahal, the quaint bookshop in Aminabad. [It has got nothing to do with Denmark. It's Danish that means intellect, wisdom]

All my elder relatives have a lot of say about the shop. My mother used to visit this shop in the decades of 50s and 60s. She still remembers Naseem Sahab, the owner. Since late 80s, I have been a frequent visitor. The shop has a history and a tradition.

In a City that was once an abode of Adab for centuries, Lucknow doesn't seem to have much space for literature now. Even in the turbulent years after partition, the City gave birth to writers of both Urdu and Hindi and there was a literary scent in Sham-e-Awadh.

It's no longer the City of poets, parks and pristine manners. There are fewer bookshops and hardly any libraries. Hazrat Ganj does have a few bookshops (just like shops in any other city) where you may get English classics, best sellers and some books on Lucknow.

It is for this reason that Danish Mahal remains a unique shop. Apart from the old charm, the portraits of the poets and writers that adorn its walls and treasure of literary books, this shop symbolises a lot more.

Located in Aminabad, Danish Mahal, still attracts a stream of poets, writers, journalists, academicians, students and even wanderers who take out books, flip through pages and go without being interrupted by the shop owner.

In this bookshop, you can pick a book, sit and turn the pages to see if it's useful before deciding to buy. It is the place where you may find a rhymster from Rudauli or a researcher from Ranchi.

This is still a shop where there are sprawling sofas where you may find a septuagenarian poet discussing literature or a rationalist speaking about theological differences.

I marvel at the owners' dedication in running a business of books, if it should be called business. I suspect they barely earn in thousands. They are unlike other shop owners who change stickers and increase price of rare books every year.

I dread the thought that one day there might be a showroom selling cell phones or garments. After all, on any given day the space would fetch millions for the owners. But will Aminabad be the same then?

The same question must have been asked when the legendary Nawal Kishore had closed his press and shop. Or when Wali Aasi died, leaving his shop to the son who wanted to instead open a biryani-corner in it. Or when Mayfair shut.

Change is inevitable but often the speed at which things change terrifies. You may accept that the park you visited in your childhood has been encroached partly or the crowd has inceased exponentially but if it vanishes altogether, you feel a sense of loss.

As always people would continue mourning the loss of old values, old culture, old architecture and everything that symbolised a particular era. Shouldn't we forget the losses and celebrate things that have survived the onslaught of change? For example, Danish Mahal, the Palace of Wisdom.

I long to see the the City of my birth once again. Quite soon.

Related post: A strange bookshop in Lucknow

12 comments:

Dr Prabhat Tandon said...

I long to see the the City of my birth once again. Quite soon.
Inshaalaah !! milne ki khawish rahegi .....

Sounds & Silences! said...

Vallah! Let the treasure of wisdom survive.. I must visit Danish Mahal in my next trip to Lucknow! And I do hope it will still be there then! BTW, I salute the sensitive poet in you!

Amit J said...

You know I have never been to Lucknow but your article was seriously moving.
Also it was very refreshing to see the comment of Dr.Prabhat Tandon...I guess the old ganga-jamuna tehzeeb still survives somewhere....
By the way from one scribe to another,
http://thegoofysufi.blogspot.com/

Lokesh Verma said...

oh, you reminded me of my childhood...my daily walks in the morning from Maulviganj to Aminabad inter college to play cricket...and think about it, now when I go to Lucknow to visit my parents, I find the crowd in Aminabad suffocating...I miss my visits to the Jhande wala park, the Kulfi shops, Batashe wali gali...I'll surely visit Danish Mahal on my next trip, which is not too far...I'm excited..Lucknow..I'm coming...

indscribe said...

@ Doc sahab: Zaroor. It's an honour.

@ Sounds and Silences! thanks a lot for appreciating the post.

@ Amit bhai: Yes, it survives in Lucknow. Nice to have you on this blog.

@ Lokesh bhai: You know, it was exactly the same for me--the walks. From Molviganj to Aminabad. Many of my relatives live there and spent considerable time in that area in my childhood.

Lalitha said...

Your article brought back some great memories! I lived in Lucknow a long time back, from 1956 to 1961! I remember going to Benbow's with my father and picking out pastries, going to Button House with my mother to pick out buttons and ribbons for my sweaters, going to Mayfair to see Ben Hur, walking in Hazratganj, and most of all, the floods of 1960. It is a pity that the city has changed. I still dream of revisiting the city some day with my husband and children.

Sandeep Monga said...

EID MUBARAK & HAPPY NAVRATRAS TO ALL OF US.

Lucknowite said...

Bit late though...but I can't resist commenting on this wonderful post. Lucknow has transformed into the so called modern city. The historical importance of Jhandewala Park was compromised for human greed. The historical towers of Gol Darwaza were bulldozed for the same reasons. Where the lifestyle is stuck between blind race of commercialization and preserving your heritage, who cares about culture, literature, identity etc. In this time, if Danish Mahal is surviving, its a miracle. Our sensitivities to literature have depleted. I once found Iqbal's 'Shikwa' being sold at the weekly roadside market of old and used books at Daryaganj Delhi. Its a sad moment for literature lovers. I wish Danish Mahal continues offering its services to literature for long.

Siyaah said...

This was so well written. You really manage to capture the intricacies, that also reflect the larger cultural patterns so well.

Keep writing.

moby said...

BEHTAREEN JANAAB!

UMEED HAI AAGEY BHI FOLLOW KARUNGA...

aB URDU KI WAQAT KAM HONE LAGI HAI IS LIYE AAP JAISE LOGON KA SHUKRGUZAR HUN MAIN!

SHUKRIYA!

shadkam77 said...

u know, i had been looking for books of Ismat apa, Annie apa, and KA Abbas saab - didn't find in Bangalore / Allahabad. While moving to Delhi, i thought dariya ganj must have it, but :(, though i got Ismat's, got neither Abbas saab nor Annie Apas.
The above shows how unique, how important Danish Mahals are (i should ve perhaps used singular) - and to keep something like this alive, is not only the responsibility of shop owners, but ours too. (not sure (like almost every other thing in life) as to how this intention can be realized though :( ... ).

Anonymous said...

Salam,
Bhai mere paas quran hindi Tarjuma ki pdf file hai mujhe iski book banwani hai.
Can u Help Me.Thanks