Sunday 29 January 2023

A brief history of our time - The English Book Depot at 100

Best is quite unreal, as better is the only way ahead! This debate about rewards, awards, and PR is never ending and will raise many hackles. The only single truth is there is no more immense exhilaration than the #JoyOfLearning - reading, writing and speaking.

Back from the Hyderabad Literary Festival, I am convinced that stories alone make us, and we are a story! We had storytellers, booksellers, librarians, artists, activists, sponsors and young people. A beautiful milieu to spread the joy of reading. Books in print, digital form, oral rendition and choreography.
We are celebrating 100 💯 years of the Bookstore and have set up a social space above the Bookstore. The Learning Forward India Foundation works to support schools and schooling with reading, writing, speaking and learning. 

#MyGoodSchool My Good School - above The English Book Depot at Dehradun, visit this social space when you visit the city next city.

A brief history of our time

100 Years of The English Book Depot, opened at Ferozepur in 1923, moved to Dehradun post partition of India to finally call it curtains down at Ferozepur in 1989 when we exited. The place was then filled in by one of our long-serving stalwarts at the bookshop Sh Kewal Ji, who decided to run it for his family and livelihood as Kewal Book Depot at the exact location.

Message from respected Lila Dhar Dewan to Sandeep Dutt.

Your eldest uncle and my eldest cousin, the late Sh. Rattan Lal and I had decided to open our book shops in Dehradun and Pathankot, respectively. So we both selected books for our shops in 1948 from The English Book Depot Ferozepur Cantt on the same day. Both the parcels were booked by train the next day. My younger brother Radha Krishna had joined Army and, as such, was to stay far away from us. I would name my shop The English Book Depot as that would have benefited me financially. However, I sacrificed my financial benefits by calling my shop Krishna Book Depot so that his name remained with us throughout our lives.

Late L. Narain Dass, the founder of The English Book Depot, was a native of Jampur District Dera Gazi Khan, situated in the southwest end of Punjab (now in Pakistan) on the other bank of river  Sindh. A vegetarian wearing a simple dress of kameez pyjamas and enjoying a simple life. He was fond of taking fruits. Always baskets full of various kinds of fruits were there in his house. He was not only the founder of The English Book Depot Ferozepur Cantt and ran the shop to earn but made it a training centre in BOOK TRADE. He used to call youth from his native town and get a room on hire for their stay. He stood guaranty with the hotel for payment of their bills for the food taken by the trainees.

There was a small sale of school textbooks only at that time. Very few Indians read other kinds of books, such as novels etc. The customers of general types of books in English language only were British soldiers stationed at various cantonments all over India. Hence scope and demand for bookshops to sell such kinds of books were in Cantonments only.

Late Lala Narain Dass Ji used to select a cantonment for his trainee. He should have done so to earn money permanently from them by importing books from the U.K. to supply those to bookshops. But he was providing them with the supplier's addresses. He stood as a guarantee with the suppliers for the payment of their dues. Thus natives of Jampur spread all over India and established their bookshops. Later, such shops were opened in cities such as Lucknow, Kanpur etc.

All of them are financially sound and enjoying respectful life in their cities. The members of the third generation of the founders of those shops are running all those bookshops. I am skipping names of towns and cantonments for want of space. I was his last student learning book trade under him at his shop. Not only that. He kept me in his house, showering his (and my Massi jee) blessings, love and affection at par with their children. I opened my shop at Pathankot in December 1948 when The English Book Depot at Dehradun was also opened.

The English Book DepotI knew Massan ji resigned from his Govt job in Lahore and founded The English Book Depot Ferozepur Cantt in 1923. However, I need to find out the name of the book depot. He learnt the art of book trade and got addresses of suppliers of these in U. K. as I needed help finding the name of any bookshop in North India during those days. He during his later age engaged himself in the service of humanity through Arya Samaj. He was honoured as the permanent President of Arya Samaj Ferozepur Cantt and Manager of Arya School Ferozepur Cantt. Smt Snehlata has been the humane face of the bookshop for over 50 years.

Shri Narain Dass had another quality and far-sightedness. He ensured Jampuri booksellers were financially sound and enjoyed a monopoly in his business at his station. He did not allow his trainees to open his bookshop in Cantonment, where a Jampuri was already running his bookshop. I felt proud of being one of the Jampuri running their bookshops in Cantonments all over India. I used to tell Army officers who were liable to be transferred to some other Cantonments someday by telling them that I could make them an astrologer. Please visit a bookshop in that Cantonment. Ask the owner to show his palm to you. On having a look at it, tell him the following. The owner of this shop is a Jampuri. He received his training in this trade at The English Book Depot Ferozepur Cantonments. The owner of the shop would give you a surprising look!

Courtesy Lila Dhar Dewan, my father Dev Dutt's first cousin, has showered his immense blessing on us.
The writer Sandeep Dutt is an author, School Improvement Coach and third generation at The English Book Depot.
Best Bookstore Of 2023 by Food4Thought Foundation at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.

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