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Lenin’s tomb

A bookstore in CP that is adapting to changing times by shifting focus from Karl Marx to Harry Potter.

books Updated: Dec 29, 2010 02:14 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin has an arresting stare. Meet the Marxist revolutionary at a bookstore in the capitalistic Connaught Place. His portrait hangs close to a shelf stocked with bestsellers such as

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

. Opened in 1945, People’s Publishing House (PPH) in Marina Arcade is a ghostly bookshop. Its signature collection consists of inexpensive books that were published in a country that no longer exists: Soviet Union.



Care for commies?


PPH has two more outlets in 5-E, Rani Jhansi Road and near Central Library, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The branch in Connaught Place is precious because it is one of the few surviving landmarks of this colonial-era arcade, which is fast losing out its old shops to foreign retail chains. Come here to get the complete 45 hardbound volumes of communist ideologues Frederick Engels and Karl Marx — printed by Moscow’s Progress Publishers, R200 each. The attic has a handsome hardbound edition of selected speeches of Lenin, the leader who created the world’s first communist state in 1917. Another novelty is a hagiography of Joseph Stalin, Lenin’s successor, who murdered millions of Soviet people.



“We are not fond of Stalin,” says Rishav Kumar, the shop’s sales-in-charge. He is a member of Communist Party of India, which has a trust called People’s Publishing House running this bookstore. “We want the revolution to work up its way slowly. Stalin wanted quick results, like Mao.” Oh yes, the Chinese communist dictator too, is here. The red book —

Quotations from the Writings of Mao Tse-Tung

— is placed next to a coffee table volume of Argentine Marxist guerilla icon Che Guevra.



The way it was


The bookstore was an important place during the seventies and the eighties. “We were the distributor of all Soviet books and magazines that were published in USSR for India,” says Kumar. During those decades, many middle-class homes subscribed to Soviet magazines such as Misha and Soviet Naari. This was also the time when India found a natural ally in Soviet Union, as the USA tilted towards its arch-rival, Pakistan.



“We had professors, students and intellectuals visiting us. The daily footfall was around one thousand.” Now that number has reduced to less than one hundred. “Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 and the books stopped coming from Moscow.”



Rare finds


The stacks of Maxim Gorky’s

Mother

, produced by Raduga Publishers, is gathering dust. Today, such literary works are considered crude pamphlets of communist propaganda but they belong to an era when their authors had huge influence. Printed in now-extinct USSR, these novels are mementos as valuable as Chairman Mao wristwatches.



Beside novels of great Russian authors like Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Pushkin, PPH has a few rare books not to be found anywhere else in Delhi. An entire shelf is dedicated to hardbound copies of

Ten Days that Shook the World

, a classic pulse-racing account of the Bolshevik revolution by American journalist John Reed.



New focus


With its original inspiration rendered largely obsolete, the bookshop has shifted its focus from Marxism.



“We are selling Hindi books in India at a no-profit-no-loss basis,” says Kumar. A considerable section in the shop is devoted to Indian writers such as Premchand, Shivani, Rahul Sankrityayan and Yash Pal. Hindi translations of

Harry Potter

novels are available, as well as guidebooks. “The Delhi guides sell the most,” says Kumar. A moment later, he says, “Marx and Lenin also sell.”



Where: 18 A, Marina Arcade, G Block, Connaught Place Tel: 23324064 Time: 10.30am to 6.30pm Nearest Metro Station: Rajiv Chowk