This Article is From May 12, 2014

Art Matters: Ram Advani Bookseller

Lucknow: Lucknow's landscape of crumbling palatial buildings and gardens, inspired by nawabi fantasies and British nostalgia now includes monuments like the Parivartan Chowk and Ambedkar park but for many, Ram Advani's bookshop, tucked away in a corner of Hazrat Ganj has always been the most important jewel in the city's crown since it opened in 1948.

As we enter the final phase of elections 2014, all eyes are on battle ground UP Including Ram Advani, a man who has seen political fortunes make and break in the Hindi heartland from 1952 onwards, when independent India voted for the first time

In those early years some of Ram Advani's more regular customers were the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Dr Govind Ballabh Pant, Sucheta Kripalani and Dr Sampoornanand. Jawaharlal Nehru also visited the shop soon after it opened inside the Gandhi Ashram and bought two books, one by the English poet and literary critic, Herbert Read.

Ram Advani's father migrated to Lucknow from Karachi in the 1920s. The family owned a chain of book stores where the young man found his calling. After his Master's degree, he decided to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a bookseller rather than a teacher. He went to Rawalpindi to see his grandfather's book stores and was hugely influenced by the humility of the authors and literati he met there. He realized there was something in bookselling worth thinking about.

The shop moved to its present location in Hazrat Ganj in 1951. At the time the building also housed the British and American libraries, Kwality restaurant which served the finest cakes and pastries and the popular Mayfair theatre, a favourite haunt of the British historian, Perciveal Spear and the legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar.

With the passage of time Lucknow's genteel ways lost out to the impatience and aspirations of a brash new India which had less time for books, while the inquisitive Indian was replaced by selfie collecting tourists. But Ram Advani's space continues to attract travelers, historians and writers from across the world. Lovers of books and arguments, including Rosie Llewellyn Jones, Lucknow's modern day chronicler, indologist William Dalrymple, and authors Amitav Ghosh and Ruskin Bond.

Author and cultural historian, Salim Kidwai says that almost anyone who has written on Lucknow thanks Mr Advani in their published works. A modest man, he doesn't discuss politics, but some very important political discussions brew at his bookshop. And at the centre is the 90 plus, Ram Advani, a connoisseur of good books, good conversation, malt and music.