The child and the Koran...

The child and the Koran...


Patrons at the Taj Office Book Depot

Patrons at the Taj Office Book Depot

Taj Office Book Depot is the oldest supplier of Islamic literature in Mumbai city


Photographer (except for ‘The child and the Koran’): Rana Chakraborty

   Taj Office Book Depot” reads an aged but defiantly large sign on Mohammed Ali Road. On the footpath covered by an equally aged canopy sits an institution which for over 60 years has been known as Bombay’s largest supplier of Islamic religious literature. The Korans they published were at one time to be found in Mecca and Medina’s most revered mosques. The fonts inscribed by their calligraphers are used by publishers throughout the country.
   Inside, every square inch of space is utilised. Copies of the Koran and Hadith, and other books on subjects like Zakat or the annual charity, inheritance and praying rules are packed tightly in wooden shelves, lined from floor to ceiling. Most books are hardbound with ornate mosaics on the cover. Coloured vibrantly in green, gold, silver, purple and red, these jackets sparkle anew when looked at from different angles, each seemingly outdoing the other in décor. Inside, the calligraphy varies. In Urdu or Arabic, every book belies a distinct style and school. 


A copy of the Koran at Taj Office Book Depot
A copy of the Koran at Taj Office Book Depot
   “We took over at the time of partition,” managing partner Mohammed Younus Saifi remembers. “This company then sold practically every kind of book in most languages.” Popular titles then comprised Urdu fiction and poetry. The area then being a base for the All Indian Progressive Writer’s Association, this shop was a favourite haunt for names like Sahir Ludhianvi, Sardar Ali Jafri and Kaifi Azmi. With the death of the communist dream, the names faded away or turned to B o l l y – wood, and Taj Office Book Depot switched to religious texts. “We decided to publish and sell the one thing that would last forever — the Koran,” Saifi says.
But even with this, there were problems. The countries the company exported it’s goods to (primarily Saudi Arabia) started purchasing only from domestic publishing houses, even as export incentives from the Indian government were slashed. The in-country trade dwindled because certain publishers, in the absence of an anti-piracy treaty with Pakistan, started selling pirated versions of Pakistani publications at lower rates. Added burdens were the management of a largely ad-hoc transport and sales force. So, 25 years back the company shut its publishing units down. Yet, carrying on the legacy of its talented calligraphers are varied fonts on translucent butter paper which Taj provides to the publisher printing the current manuscript. Saifi shows us these papers, with corrections still visible (every text, being hand-scribed went through a series of proof reads before print). “Now the customer base is Mumbai,” he says smiling. “And considering the amount of people coming into this city every day, it is an ever growing base.”
      Saifi hesitated before giving us his interview, wondering what we would write, and what would be read. He mentioned in the course of it, that events such as the ’92-’93 riots have deterred the company from being “too visible”. Many would, in fact, question the significance of a shop selling religious texts in cosmopolitan Mumbai. The same would also raise an eyebrow at a skull cap or saffron garment being worn at a gathering with a liberal outlook. Any display of religious affiliation is for some reason considered the fundamentalist’s stake-hold. The same liberal voices, object hoarsely to western culture capturing Indian mind and economy. Yet, where does the culture of the politically united Indian stem from, if not from one out of the diverse distinct regions or religions to which he or she belongs? It is perhaps for this reason that our Supreme Court in its reading of the word ‘Secular’ in the constitution’s preamble gave it a positive meaning — “developing understanding and respect towards different religions” — as opposed to “not recognising any religion”, which is how the US apex court understands the word. Institutions like Taj Office Book Depot, more than the government itself, take this meaning further.
This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:




  1. المسلم العربي Moslem Arab · May 7, 2010

    السلام عليكم ورحمه الله تعالي وبركاته
    المسلمون علي حق
    وانشاء الله علي حق دائما
    والأسلام هو طريق الخير والسلام والطيبه

    Peace be upon you and Almighty God’s mercy and blessings be upon you
    Muslims on the right
    And the creation of Allah on the right always
    Islam is the path of goodness and peace and good

    • rishimajumder · October 25, 2011

      regards to u too…

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