The bylines of Allahabad…

IMG_3273The one aspect of Allahabad that doesn’t disappoint is the number of bookstores here. These bookstores and the owners are the only living testimony of what was once a city of famous writers and accomplished scholars. The legacy runs in the language which is untouched by the casual mix of English. It is refreshing to hear words like samay, parichay in regular usage rather than only in school elocutions and debates.

The main market area, Civil Lines, has a number of bookstores. But one particular bookstore caught my eye.

The store was just the right size, cosy yet had books neatly stacked in sections with small stools in the corners for readers to browse through their picks. The books shelves were arranged like in a library.

The shopkeeper was an old man, Mr A.K.Srivastava, who had been working there all his life. There were a couple of customers, who seemed regulars, comfortably browsing through familiar sections or reading in a corner. I browsed through the what seemed the top picks, laid out in the front. A book titled ‘The Last Bungalow…Writings on Allahabad’ caught my attention. I found an empty corner to browse through the book. The book was a compilation of snippets from the biographies of all the famous writers of Allahabad. Stories that drew their connection with Allahabad. Harivansh Rai Bachchan to Rudyard Kipling – they were all there. The Allahabad University and The Pioneer were the common thread in all the stories.

While I made a mental note to visit these places next thing on my agenda, Mr.Srivastava crossed me. I looked up, he gave me a gentle smile, his smile reaching his bespectacled eyes. I asked him to recommend me a Hindi book. Inspired by the Hindi all around me, I wanted to go back to reading Hindi books like I did during my school days. He picked up a classic – Munshi Premchandji’s Godaan. I couldn’t resist asking him his story. With the same gentle smile, he replied that he grew up in the R.K. Verma’s house. Ramkumar Verma is one of the noted writers and poets of Allahabad who also won a Padma Bhushan. His upbringing led him to develop an interest in reading and thus landed him this job. “This store is 130 years old and one of the oldest bookstores in Allahabad.” he declared proudly. “It was started by the Britishers and after Independence was sold to a Bengali Family (Banerjees, the current owners) under the condition that they retain its name. Allahabad has always been the mecca of scholars, writers and poets. But sadly with the internet and smartphones, the love for reading is vanishing and the breed of young authors lack the originality of thought and style.” he softly lamented. “But, I feel happy when I see youngsters like you still enjoying reading over the internet.”

As I walked out with a satisfying buy, I carefully read the name of the store. In an archaic bold font was written – ‘A.H. Wheeler Bookstore’. This name which is now all across India in every Railways station has its roots in Allahabad.

– Prerana

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One thought on “The bylines of Allahabad…

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