The bylanes of our city house several wonders that boast of a simple façade but are historically significant. One such institution is Hindi Granth Karyalay, a publishing house and bookstore that completed 100 years on September 24.
Housed in the heritage structure of Hirabaug, the store was founded in 1912 by writer and publisher Pandit Nathuram Premi.
Known by his pen name of Premi, the author was a well-known writer in the field of Hindi literature and was acclaimed for his texts in Jainism. He came to the city in 1901 with just a few rupees in his pocket from his hometown of Deori in Madhya Pradesh, where he worked as a teacher.
Once in the city, Premi worked as a clerk at the Digambara Jain Tirthaksetra. “Back then land wasn’t so expensive. Seth Manikchandra was impressed by my great grandfather’s works and gave him four rooms in Hirabaug to work on his publishing business. He first started with Jain Granth Ratnakar Karyalay in 1906 with his then-partner Pannalal Bakliwal . In 1912, he started the current bookstore,” says Manish Modi, who currently runs the store and the publishing house.
Premi was always revolutionary in his thoughts and supported the cause of women’s literacy by educating his wife Rama Devi, and by getting his brother married to a widow, back in the 1920s.
“Back then, it was considered disrespectful to God for Jains to publish religious texts. But he did so because he felt that the only way to spread the real message of the texts was to translate and publish them rather than spending days in temples,” says Modi.
To further his revolutionary thoughts, the first book published by the Hindi Granth Karyalay was a Hindi translation of John Stuart Mill’s Liberty, titled Svadhinata, which was translated by Pandit Mahaviraprasad Dvivedi.
“Premiji knew several languages including Marathi and Bengali, and felt that Hindi was the language of the masses. More importantly, the British didn’t understand it well,” says Modi.
Premi was a good friend of Munshi Premchand and was the first to publish Godaan, another book that took on the prevailing Brahmin culture of the society. Premi also published translated versions of Rabindranath Tagore and Sharat Chandra Chatterji’s literary works.
Hindi Granth Karyalay played it’s role in the freedom struggle by providing refuge to freedom fighters as no one would come looking for them at the bookstore. “He sent his son to study at St Xavier’s School and College, and had a fight with the school about sending his son in chappals.
His argument was that the entire country couldn’t afford shoes, hence why should his son, an Indian, wear shoes?” recounts Modi.
Today, the 42-year-old Modi spreads Premi’s legacy by re-publishing, authoring and translating works related to Jainism, publishing Urdu books in Devnagari script, stocking a bulk of Hindi and Sanskrit books and also releasing e-books.