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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