When he stopped being an editor of a clutch of Hindi literary magazines, Satya Narain Mishra did the next best thing. He turned his house into a book-shop stocking rare books, reports Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
What would a writer and editor of a literary magazine do as soon as he realises that he can neither write nor edit the product? “I had to shut down my magazine after a terrible accident. And that’s the only thing I was trained to do,” remembers a lean, keen eyed, hawk-nosed 74-year-old Satya Narain Mishra, who used to edit magazines like Ram Sandesh (published in Dehradun), Navneet (in Mumbai), Anuvrat (in Kolkata), among many others. That ‘thing’ was Hindi sahitya. So he opened a bookshop in his home: “My sons were grown up by then. They helped me open a shop and liaison with a Pune press to help bring out some of our own publications.”
If you peep into Mishra’s ground floor living room in Irla, you will see an old man watching the news, with a stove burning in the kitchen behind. Enter this space to find a whole new world open up. The tiny 200-square feet room holds over 20,000 books covering every inch of the wall. The furniture is utilitarian: a chair, an iron cast bed with a faded bed sheet, a basic wood top desk and a 19-inch TV. The quiet gets you, which is in sharp contrast to the hustle of a commercial area. Mishra settles us down with some tea and warms up to conversation.
“Hindi literature was going through a Golden era pre-Independence,” remembers this ex-journalist. “Post Independence the development of this language and its use were motivated by dirty political games.” Hence, according to Mishra, southern stalwarts like Raj Gopalachari who had earlier served the cause of Hindi sahitya’s propagation, started denouncing it. “Also, as a result, whereas earlier people used to read Hindi literature for the sake of mental and emotional enrichment, the later generations were concerned with the language only if it helped them professionally,” he says. He states this as the reason for major publishers from Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur and Varanasi shifting focus to Delhi or shutting shop.
“But now, courtesy the media channels, there’s some interest in the language again, as a unifier,” he claims, as he sets about showing us his books. The collection ranges from classic authors like Premchand and Jayshankar Prasad to more the modern Kamleshwar and Nirmal Verma. He has Hindi translations from Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Oriya, Telegu and Tamil classics… and more. There are complete works of Dharamveer Bharati, Premchand, Harishankar Parsai, Sharad Joshi, Dushyant Kumar, Saadat Hasan Manto… to name a few. Hindi dictionaries of every configuration (Hindi-English, Marathi-Hindi, Bengali-Hindi…), grammar books, technical Hindi books on science and laymen’s Hindi books on law. The list is endless.
“Film and theatre persons — Prakash Jha, Nadira Zaheer Babbar, Dinesh Thakur and Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, to name a few, are constant visitors here,” Mishra lists. “But a lot of my customers also are servicemen and business executives who’ve grown up on the Hindi language and miss it.” Despite its easy to miss location, the shop sells over 25,000 books a month due to Mishra’s personal contacts, the location and a reputation built over 10 years. He points out, however,
that the popularity of English has impacted the growth of literature in regional languages as well as Hindi.
“People take the term ‘losing your roots’ as a cliché. But then why are so many NRIs sending their children to India to grow up?” Many of them are known to buy an average of Rs 5,000 worth of books from Mishra at a time. He believes India itself is headed for a similar NRI identity crises — “minus a society and language people can trace their influences to”.
While his shop supports contemporary writers — Surya Bala, Malti Joshi, Gyan Chaturvedi — he complains that it’s difficult to gauge who will last: “Most current writers quit writing after one or two novels. It takes at least four works to establish style and reputation.”
Further contribution to the literary cause? The 24/7 floods drowned text worth over Rs 1,00,000, along with a compilation of Mishra’s own writings. “The books, at least 67,000, that got soiled in the water and were rendered non-salable were then donated to many libraries,” he says. A final contribution: “A self published series where I’ve introduced my favourite classic writers through chosen short stories in large type, for beginners.” Just as he introduced himself as a book seller, by going back to the basics.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/466u