Pt. Nehru’s Favourite literary hangout still stands tall in Lucknow’s Hazratganj

Arijit Bose

It has seen the pre independence era, it has also seen the times after the country attained its Independence. An outlet that is filled with books that cater to the different academic boards, entrance exam course books for different streams especially churning out scholars who have reached respectable places in the bureaucracy. A place that does not let any aspirant in any stream feel let down. Not just popular fiction, competitive reading material, it has also over the years turned towards providing stationary and religious texts for those who believe in the power of divine intervention. Tucked away in a silent corner of the over 200 year old Hazratganj Boulevard it is a not so fancy shop which still conjures up an image of the erstwhile British Raj. Filled with the effervescence of books and an age old appeal it was once graced by the First Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru; the British Book Depot has continued to persevere to play a lead role in knowledge dissemination. Not just Pt. Nehru but successive generations in the family have made it a point to visit the Kakkar family here, who have been running it for the past nine decades.

The book store has catered quietly to students, bureaucrats, graduates and students aspiring to be in the civil service. The owner of the shop also guides PhD students. He helps them gain access to the best of knowledge available and blesses them with an Ayushmaan Bhav which many a times has worked wonders.

The book store has been in existence since 1930s, it has since catered to the needs of the Rajas and Nawabs of Uttar Pradesh. An authority on Nawabs, author Rosie Lewellyn Jones released her book in this very shop. The first Prime Minister of India was a regular at this store till 1947. Men of the English Army and many officers came here given the fact that they were voracious readers of books. The British Indian Army too came here to take books.

A man with a bright smile, Suraj Prakash Kakkar greets us at the entrance of the bookshop. He is the propreitor of the shop who has been leading charge. For Suraj Prakash Kakkar the reopening after two months has had its own toll on business and life.  Established by his late father Shanti Prakash Kakkar in 1930 he has taken care of the shop since the late 1940s. In his late seventies, Kakkar feels that book trade remains a concern given that the lockdown has worsened the situation. Already two shops next to his book depot were closed down by the owners owing to heavy losses. As booksales remain a trouble spot, there is a glint of despair that is evident in the eyes of Kakkar. But the confidence to tide past the hardtimes is very clear when he says – in 90 years there have been 10 situations when the shop faced closure like scenario but it has persevered to stand tall.

As a message to the youth of today, he says inculcate a habit of visiting any book shop in localised areas with family so that one gets a worldview of books and other related aspects about knowledge dissemination and expansion of horizon. A Connoisseur of the Urdu zabaan he peppers his sentences with powerful Urdu couplets.

The Book Store has given name and fame to the proprietor as a main source of imparting good knowledge and counselling.  Any person who is educated can get books on diverse genres from this book store. The British Book Depot came up during British rule. After its Indore outlet, Lucknow was next to get a bookstore of a different kind.

Suraj Praksh Kakkar, who runs the shop says post COVID – 19, one wonders till when the shop will go on. But the hope of knowledge and books overpowering all is very high. A grand old man taking  his father’s legacy forward believes that it is a small minority of intellectuals who rule the world and over the years he has seen a steady decline in reading habits. He says a house without books is a room without a window, a bookshop is a temple of learning, the best charity one can do is to carry knowledge to people and if you educate a man you educate an individual, if you educate a woman you educate the whole family.

He signs off with the philosophy that the smallest of good deed done is better than the grandest desire to do something big.

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