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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Book excerpt: Kipling set up the Indian Railway Library to fund his return to England

In Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry, Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha and Vidya Krishnamurthi narrate the history of the Indian Railways, tracing its growth from the 1830s to Independence.

books Updated: Jul 20, 2017 11:51 IST
Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha and Vidya Krishnamurthi
Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha and Vidya Krishnamurthi
New Delhi
(Soumya Srivastava/HT Photo)

Many of the Kipling stories, including ‘The Man Who Would Be King’, were first published by the Indian Railway Library. The Indian Railway Library was a publishing concern set up by A.H. Wheeler in Allahabad in 1888; Wheeler had a monopoly on selling books at railway stations. Both Indian Railway Library and Wheeler are part of the historical legacy of the Indian railway system.

The Indian Railway Library was Kipling’s idea. He needed money to fund his return to England in 1888 and for something that was a bit like a world tour. To this end he approached Emile Edouard Moreau with a proposal that his stories should be republished (they had all been published earlier) in cheap prints.

Illustrated by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, six such collections were published—Soldiers Three, The Story of the Gadsbys, In Black and White, Under the Deodars, The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Eerie Tales and Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories—all at Re 1 each. Nothing else was ever published by the Indian Railway Library.

As for Emile Edouard Moreau—who was born in 1856—he is often unnecessarily confused with the French playwright Emile Moreau, who was born in 1877, the year when A.H. Wheeler was set up. (1877 is usually cited as the year that A.H. Wheeler & Co. was established, though 1874 is also sometimes mentioned.) Emile Edouard Moreau happened to be in Allahabad at the time because he was an employee of Bird and Company. Moreau’s grandfather, James Bird, had also been in the bookselling business. Predictably, Moreau was fond of books, and so was his friend, Arthur Henry Wheeler. A.H. Wheeler was then in Allahabad, though he moved to London later.

Bibek Debroy
Bibek Debroy ( Twitter )

Back in Allahabad, A.H. Wheeler possessed a huge collection of books, too many to take back home. Since passengers, especially the upper classes, had got into the habit of reading on train journeys, Moreau volunteered to sell Wheeler’s old and unwanted books from a wooden almirah in Allahabad railway station. This venture was so successful that in 1877, A.H. Wheeler and Company was set up as a partnership.

Arthur Henry Wheeler and Moreau weren’t the only partners. There were also Arthur Lisle Wheeler, W.M. Rudge and Tigran Ratheus. The company had offices in Allahabad and London. Especially in the north and the east, A.H. Wheeler and Company took off. It not only had the exclusive rights to run bookstalls on railway platforms, it also became the sole agency for issuing advertisements on behalf of the railways across most of India.

T.K. Banerjee joined the firm in 1899, and after World War I became a partner. Wheeler and Company added vernacular books and journals to its product line. Eventually, Moreau retired and returned to England. Interestingly, his house in Brighton was named Fairlie Place, and was the headquarters of EIRC. When Moreau retired, the Banerjee family took over the equity of A.H. Wheeler.

Excerpted with permission from Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry, Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha, Vidya Krishnamurthi, Penguin

First Published: Apr 19, 2017 16:01 IST