In a city where bookshops are fast closing down, JM Jaina & Brothers has scripted a fascinating story of survival. Though not many may have even heard of it, the bookshop is perhaps the Capital’s oldest, operating from the same location for the past 87 years.
Started in 1928 by Lala Jaini Mall Jain, today this small bookshop at Mori Gate is at odds with its surroundings. Grey crumbling buildings with shops dealing in earth moving equipment and automobile parts line the road. Getting to the bookshop through a mess of carts, cars, rickshaws and e-rickshaws is an arduous task. A signboard describes it as ‘Dilli’s oldest bookshop’.
Inside, one sees iron shelves stacked with law books, mostly government publications: rules, regulations, gazettes, statuary forms and registers. Some of the titles on sale include Delhi Local laws, Manual of Arms Law, Manual of Office Procedures, Central Civil Services Revised pay Rules, Descriptive law on Pollution and Environment, Indian Boiler Regulations, among others. The bookshop showcases a litany of laws of the land, many of which have been termed archaic.
“Ours was the first bookshop in the city. When my father started it, Connaught Place was not even built. Initially, it was a general bookstore. Most of our customers were British officers living and working in Kashmere Gate and Civil Lines,” says Narendra Jain, son of Lala JM Jain.
The bookshop has quite a rich history, and among those who frequented it were Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. “Mahatma Gandhi also came. We were the distributors of Harijan newspaper which he started. It was quite popular,” says Jain.
JM Jaina & Brothers was among the first distributors of foreign newspapers and magazines in the 1930s. “Life magazine was the highest selling magazine those days and DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the bestselling novel at our shop. Business was so brisk those days that we would open at 5 in the morning and close at midnight,” says Jain. After Independence, as sales of general books dwindled, the bookshop, says Jain, started selling law books. In the early 1970s, the bookshop started its own publishing house, Akalank Publications. It publishes law books.
Jain talks with a lot of insight and knowledge about the country’s litany of laws and how they have changed or not changed over the decades - and more importantly, when and why a common man reads law books.
“While awareness about various laws has increased, most people come to buy a book on a particular law only after they find themselves in legal trouble. The books on IPC, CPC, labour laws continue to be the bestsellers at our shop. When the Municipal Corporation of Delhi launched a sealing drive in 2006, Delhi Master Plan 2001 became an instant bestseller,” says Jain.
Jain recalls that he published the Mandal Commission Report in the form of a hardcover book when the VP Singh government implemented it in the early 1990s. “During massive anti-reservation protests that followed, the report flew off the shelves. I sold 8,000 copies in a few days. Suddenly everyone - lawyers, protesters, politicians, students - wanted a copy. I made enough money from sales proceeds to marry off my daughter,” says Jain, showing us a copy of the hardcover copy of the Mandal Commission Report priced at Rs 1,000. “Those days we sold it for Rs 100,” he says.
Jain says his business has suffered a lot in this digital age. But he is quick to point out that online retailers are not to blame in his case. The government, he says, is making all its publications available online free of cost. Besides, he points out, a lot of foreign companies that publish law books have entered the Indian market in the past few years, making survival hard for small law books publishers and sellers.
“Besides, we have lost a lot of our customers because of the maddening traffic in this area. More Gate is not a place to run a bookshop anymore. We do not want to close down the shop but we are fast running out of options,” says Jain.