City Landmark – People’s Publishing House, Connaught Place
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Russia is fighting with Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan is fighting with Tajikistan. Armenia and Azerbaijan too have clashed, yet again, with each other. It all is in this month’s news (September 2022). Mikhail Gorbachev too was buried this month.
The death of Soviet Union’s last president bookends the story of the socialist state that contained all these currently warring republics from 1922 to 1991.
That said, something of that extinct Soviet Union, or USSR, continues to exist in a little-known Connaught Place bookshop. On entering, you first have to deal with Lenin’s arresting stare. The USSR founder’s hand-painted portrait hangs close to the glass door (the door has a Che Guevara poster).
In Marina Arcade since 1948, People’s Publishing House has very many books on communism. A shelf under the staircase to the attic is crammed with hardbounds on the collected works of Engels and Marx – printed in the 1970s and 80s by Moscow’s Progress Publishers. Only 15 of the original 45 volumes are left. There are also a few laudatory books on Lenin’s successor, Stalin, but nothing on Stalin’s Great Terror.
The gentleman at the counter points at the long corridor crowded with writers Shivani, Yashpal, Premchand, Mahasweta Devi, Meera Sikri, and Maithili Sharan Gupt. “We created this section five years back… there are so few places in the city with an extensive selection of Hindi literature.” Calm, solemn and soft-spoken, the venerable Rishab Kumar exudes the reassuring vibes of a countryside doctor one meets in Chekhov’s stories. He is in fact a member of the Communist Party of India, which has a trust called People’s Publishing House that runs this bookstore. Manning the shop for almost 50 years, he has personally experienced its crest and troughs. “We were one of the distributors of Soviet books and magazines (Misha, Soviet Naari, etc) that used to be published in USSR for India.” Some of those books, such as the ones by Moscow’s Raduga Publishers, had “such sunder silai, such sundar binding, such nice paper.” Back in the 1980s, USSR was very much vogue in India, and the shop had a “thousand footfalls” daily. Today, the footfall is 50.
Some minutes later, one such footfall steps in, and picks up a copy of Rich Dad Dad Dad.
In Lenin’s shadow