How Partition Migrants Made Daryaganj a Hub for Hindi Publishers

When Amarnath Varma, 87, and his family decided to leave Multan following partition, the most valuable possessions they transferred to Delhi beforehand were thousands of books that lined their bookstore. Varma’s grandfather had started a book business, selling titles in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi.

As they struggled to rebuild their uprooted lives in Paharganj in Delhi, the family managed to find a small vacant shop in Dariba Kalan to restart their bookstore as ‘Punjabi Pustak Bhandar’. But in the chaotic days after the partition, it was not easy for the book industry to take off, Varma said. “The only books requested were Hindu religious books.”

After struggling to keep the bookstore running, in the mid-1950s Varma came across Hind Pocket Books, the publishing house established by Dina Nath Malhotra and credited with developing the Hindi paperback market in Delhi. Like Varma, Malhotra too was a migrant from the partition of Lahore and had set up his business in Daryaganj, the prosperous commercial district of the old city. “I thought it was a great idea,” Varma said. “I too decided to start a similar business. Over the next two years, we managed to publish some 300 paperback titles.

Soon after, Varma also moved his business to Daryaganj, to the space behind the Moti Mahal restaurant, yet another product of the partition’s migration to Delhi. He renamed it Star Publications. For ambitious partition migrants like Varma, Daryaganj provided a most suitable region to start anew their lives in a new land and thus make it a publishing hub.

“Daryaganj has had so many different avatars,” explained historian and author Swapna Liddle. Under the Mughals, Faiz Bazaar was established here between the Delhi Gate of the Red Fort and the Delhi Gate of the city. The Faiz Bazaar, as Liddle explains, was one of two main markets under the Mughals, the other being Chandni Chowk.

Amarnath Varma (87) moved his bookstore to Daryaganj in the mid-1950s. (Adrija Roychowdhury)

“At the beginning of the 19th century, large estates and European quarters appeared here. The British also set up their military quarters there. After 1857, this area changed quite drastically. A number of nabobs’ estates were confiscated. Most of the Europeans living here were the first to be killed during the revolt and the British also removed their cantonment,” Liddle explained.

Therefore, the area remained vacant for a long time. It was rebuilt again in 1911 when the new capital was established at Delhi. “When a city becomes a capital, a lot of commercial and non-administrative personnel move there as well. Subsequently, many educational institutions and commercial buildings have sprung up in this area,” Liddle said.

Yet another avatar was bestowed upon Daryaganj after independence, that of being a publishing hub.
“The publishing industry of today’s Daryaganj (mainly Ansari Road) was established by migrants who settled in the region after the partition of India and Pakistan, mainly in the late 1950s and in the early 1960s when the historic Faiz bazaar that appears in almost all important Delhi maps and drawings was renamed New Daryaganj,” said Kanupriya Dhingra, assistant professor at Jindal School of Languages​ ​and Literature, OP Jindal Global University.

“Daryaganj’s proximity to Chawri Bazaar paper markets was an interesting potential. While the area was commercialized soon after 1947 – with shops selling durable consumer goods such as bicycles, radios, musical and medical instruments – the hunt for publishers to set up offices in Daryaganj more or less began after Oxford University Press moved to the locality in 1971. , and in no time Ansari Road became the publisher hub it is today,” added Dhingra, who is also currently working on a monograph on Daryaganj and its book economy.

Apart from Star Publications and Hind Pocket Books, other well known publishers that have appeared in and around the region included Prakash Prakashan, Rajpal & Sons, Vani Prakashan Group and Motilal Banarsidass.

An interesting transformation that score’s migrant publishers have brought to Delhi’s book culture is the popularity of Hindi publications. In the years immediately following partition, Urdu had lost the stature and popularity it once enjoyed in India. The only market for Urdu publications was limited to the Urdu bazaar area around Jama Masjid.

“The publishing center in Hindi was in Benares and Prayagraj. It is only in the last 75 years that Delhi has become the intellectual center of Hindi literature,” said Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal, who is a managing director at the Vani Foundation and heads the department of copyright and from the translation to Vani Prakashan. “Delhi was the political center of the independence movement and like any other movement, the freedom movement also had to take place in a certain language. Hindi had become that connecting language; it touched the common psyche and took everyone to the streets in the fight for independence.

Varma said that initially he published a few books in Urdu, the first being a film songbook by poet Sahir Ludhianvi titled ‘Gaata Jaaye Banjara’. “But Urdu had lost popularity, so we published very few books in that language,” he said.

Over time, Varma befriended some of the biggest names in Hindi literature who were also its 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 written by Nanda, I have published 25,” Varma said.

Since the 1970s and with the establishment of Oxford University Press, Daryaganj has also found its popularity among English publications. “The biggest advantage of the region 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 have also expanded into English publishing. Varma told how during his career he traveled to 61 countries and picked up lucrative ideas. Beaming with pride, he says he has published in more than 80 languages. His books are regularly supplied to the Library of Congress in Washington DC and are part of the Frankfurt Book Fair.