When Amarnath Varma, 87, and his family decided to move away from Multan after partition, the most prized possessions they previously transferred to Delhi were thousands of books lining their bookshop. Varma’s grandfather had started the book business, selling Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi titles.
While struggling to rebuild their uprooted life in Delhi’s Paharganj, the family managed to find a small vacant shop in Dariba Kalan to resume their bookshop as the Punjabi Pustak Bhandar. But in the chaotic days after the split, it wasn’t easy for the book business to get off the ground, Varma said. “The only books that were asked for were Hindu religious ones.”
In the mid-1950s, after struggling to get the bookshop up and running, Varma came across Hind Pocket Books, the publishing company founded by Dina Nath Malhotra and credited with developing the Hindi pocket book market in Delhi. Like Varma, Malhotra was a partition migrant from Lahore and had established his business in Daryaganj, the thriving business district of the old city. “I thought it was a great idea,” Varma said. “I have also decided to found a similar company. Within the next few years we managed to publish around 300 paperback titles.”
Soon after, Varma also moved his business to Daryaganj, to the space behind the Moti Mahal restaurant, another product of Delhi’s partition migration. He renamed it Star Publications. For ambitious partition migrants like Varma, Daryaganj offered a most suitable region to restart their life in a new country and thereby make it a publishing center.
“Daryaganj had so many different avatars,” explained historian and author Swapna Liddle. Under the Mughals, the Faiz Bazaar was built here between the Delhi Gate of the Red Fort and the Delhi Gate of the city. The Faiz Bazaar, as explained by Liddle, was one of the two main markets under the Mughals, the other being Chandni Chowk.
“In the early 19th century, a number of large estates and European quarters developed here. The British also set up their military quarters here. After 1857 this area changed quite drastically. A number of the Nawabs’ properties were confiscated. Most of the Europeans living here were the first to be killed during the revolt and the British also removed their quarters,” explained Liddle.
As a result, the area remained empty for a long time. It was rebuilt in 1911 when the new capital was established in Delhi. “When a city becomes a capital, many business people and non-administrative staff also move to the city. After that, many educational institutions and commercial buildings popped up in the area,” Liddle said.
Another avatar given to Daryaganj after independence was that of being a center for publications.
“The publishing industry of today’s Daryaganj (mainly Ansari Road) was established by migrants who moved to the area after the partition of India and Pakistan, mainly in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the historic Faiz Bazaar appeared in almost all significant years Maps and Drawings of Delhi has been renamed New Daryaganj,” said Kanupriya Dhingra, Assistant Professor at Jindal School of Languages and Literature, OP Jindal Global University.
“Daryaganj’s proximity to the Chawri Bazaar paper markets was an attractive potential. While the area was commercialized shortly after 1947 – with shops dealing in consumer goods such as bicycles, radios, musical and medical instruments – the hunt for publishers to set up offices in Daryaganj began more or less after Oxford University Press moved to the area in 1971 was , and in a very short time Ansari Road became the publishing center it is today,” added Dhingra, who is also currently working on a monograph on Daryaganj and its book economy.
Aside from Star Publications and Hind Pocket Books, a number of other well known publishers sprung up in and around the area including Prakash Prakashan, Rajpal & Sons, Vani Prakashan Group and Motilal Banarsidass.
An interesting change that the Partition’s migrant publishers brought about in Delhi’s book culture is the popularity of Hindi publications. In the years immediately following partition, Urdu had lost the prestige and popularity it once enjoyed in India. The only market for Urdu publications was limited to the Urdu bazaar area around Jama Masjid.
“The center of Hindi publications was in Banaras and Prayagraj. Only in the last 75 years has Delhi become the intellectual center for Hindi literature,” said Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal, Executive Trustee of the Vani Foundation and Head of Copyright and Translation at Vani Prakashan. “Delhi was the political center of the independence movement and like any other movement, the freedom movement had to take place in a specific language. Hindi had emerged as that unifying language; it touched the general psyche and got everyone onto the streets fighting for independence.”
Varma said that he initially published a few books in Urdu, the first being a collection of film songs by poet Sahir Ludhianvi entitled “Gaata Jaaye Banjara”. “But Urdu had lost all popularity, so we published very few books in the language,” he said.
Over time, Varma befriended some of the greatest names in Hindi literature, who were also his authors, including Amrita Pritam, Krishan Chander, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Kamleshwar. Its best-selling author was novelist and screenwriter Gulshan Nanda. “Of the 35 books that Nanda wrote, I published 25,” Varma said.
Since the 1970s and with the founding of Oxford University Press, Daryaganj has also found popularity among English publications. “The biggest advantage of the area was the logistics. The Post Office is nearby, as is the New Delhi Railway Station, so it’s easy to deliver books from here,” Maheshwari-Goyal said.
With the growing popularity of English reading, most Hindi publishers also expanded in English publishing. Varma shared how he traveled to 61 countries during his career and came up with some lucrative ideas. Beaming with pride, he said he had published in over 80 languages. His books are regularly delivered to the Library of Congress in Washington DC and are part of the Frankfurt Book Fair.