Tajraan-e-Kutb: The publishers standing through 150 years of challenges

At Chattabal it was for the first time that people had access to these manuscripts and it was a hugely popular

Haroon Mirani
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 19 2018 11:08PM | Updated Date: Jan 19 2018 11:08PM
Tajraan-e-Kutb: The publishers standing through 150 years of challengesRepresentational Pic

During mid 19th century when large number of Kashmiris were associated with Handicrafts forcefully advocated by then Maharaja to get his treasuries full, one trader diverted towards an unusual trade. Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim of Shehr-e-Khas used to visit Lahore where he developed the literary taste and started collecting rare Persian manuscripts and publish them for his readers in Kashmir.

It was a small initiative as most of Kashmir were illiterate but Ibrahim knew that times are going to change and books will play an important role and will surely be in high demand. Having the exposure of one of the most vibrant cities of that time Ibrahim knew how much changes can knowledge and books bring for a society. Ibrahim’s work continued and he pushed books to Kashmir with only few eager readers.

After Ibrahim’s death, his son Sheikh Abdul Gaffar took over the publishing business and it is he who is credited for taking the business to a whole new level. Under his leadership, for the first time Persian translation of various manuscripts were published in Kashmir. He established his famous publishing house at Chattabal. It was a business hub of that era  where traders, scholars, tourist from different countries used to converge or travel through the place. It was an excellent place for exchange of ideas and learning.

With time the level of education among masses started to increase. More people visited outside and foreigners came here, which gave a whole new level of exposure to people. Chattabal became sort of Urdu Bazar of Delhi where one could find books of different genres. “It was not only that people would come to the shop to purchase or read books, but other outlets also came up to sell books. This was the effect of the publishing house as it granted the status of an important sector to publishing industry,” said Sheikh Bashir  grandson of Ibrahim who currently looks after Jay Kay publishers. “The turning point was publication of Awrad-i-Fathiya of Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) and Qaseed-i-Gousiya of Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA). The copies of the most loved and rare manuscripts of that time were lithographed at Mohammadi Press Lahore in 1879. At Chattabal it was for the first time that people had access to these manuscripts and it was a hugely popular.”

The connection with fledgling publishing industry of Lahore grew stronger under Gaffar and number of Persian manuscripts were published through Lahore Publishing Industry. They used to be transported through Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road via Uri.

One thing that kept the publishers different from others was that they continued to improvise and adopt new technology and ideas. With each generation of Sheikhs, the publishing industry in Kashmir attained new heights. After Gaffar it was the turn of legendary Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed who till date remains one of the most popular publishers produced by Kashmir. He founded the Haji Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Tajrani Qutub, the famed publishing company. The multitalented Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed was not only a publisher but a well known writer too. “His two famous works include Bayaz-i-Waza Mehmood, a rare collection of Sufi poems by famous Sufi poet Waza Mehmood, who was a contemporary to famous Sufi poet Jinab Wahab Khar and Khawab Nama Hazarat Yousuf A.S.,” says Waseem great grandson of Sheikh Ibrahim. 

The publications have been lost to time, but the publishing house is planning to reprint the books in near future. From Chattabal, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad shifted first to Maharajagunj and finally to Maisuma. His biggest contribution apart from expanding the business has ben to collect and preserve Kashmiri manuscripts by publishing them through his Lahore partners. According to experts the publishing house is the first to have traced and consolidated the scattered historical literature and rare manuscripts in Kashmir and Central Asia.

The publishing house also played a major role in political awakening of Kashmiris in 1930s. It was through these books that people came to know about their rights and how people around the world fought for rights. The famed Reading Room, which challenged the aristocratic set up of that time, was full of literature from Tajran publishers. Scholars, students and common people would flock their shops to get the books about literature about world affairs, politics, sociology and other things.

Such was the fame of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed that people used to call him Kitab, the title which the family later adopted as their surname. Just when the business looked good, the partition of 1947 came as a shock as all ties with Lahore were severed. Heartbroken Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed had to start afresh and turned to J.S. Santh Singh’s press at Delhi and Naval Kishor Press Lucknow, as a replacement to Lahore. Post 1947 he published hundreds of new books, preserved dozens of old manuscripts and saw the emergence of vibrant publishing industry in Kashmir. The biggest tragedy that fell on the publishing house was when their massive book collection were set ablaze along with other shops on 02 April 1993 at the peak of turmoil. Many rare books and manuscripts were turned to ashes in the blaze. 

After that Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed was never same again and he died in 1999. But on his advise the family started again. All of his five sons came together to bring the publishing house back to its feet. Barring one all four are associated with publishing industry. “One thing our family learnt from Sheikh Sahib was never to quit. We could have easily gone into some highly profitable business but we stuck with publishing,” said Waseem.

 Continuing the family tradition Sheikh Bashir Ahmad established Jay Kay Books in addition to another Kitab Mahal Publishers Lal Bazar. “The main aim of this expanded business is to expedite introduction of Sufi writers to the world and promoting Islamic scripts,” said Waseem. “The Meccan Revelation of Ibn Al Arabi, Dewan-i- Shamas Tabrez, Message from the East, The Gift of Hijaz, Conference of Birds and The Life, Personality and Writings Of Al – Junaid Bagdadi are among our popular books. 

Though the publishers have seen many hard times but the challenge of today is much steeper. “Earlier no matter what happened but we knew that readers are there and we will regroup for them. But today book readers are dwindling. The social, cultural and educational set-up is such that students are restricted to syllabus and elders don’t read,” said Waseem who a five year degree in publishing and face of current house. “This is the challenge we are trying to overcome.”

After the tumultuous year of 2016, last year was one of the best for the publishing house. They came out with multiple books that created huge interest among public. The famed Hijras of Kashmir continues to be one of their best sellers. “It was such a book which nobody wanted to publish but we took the lead. We want to give platform to youth and budding writers,” said Waseem while calling to all young writers to approach them without hesitation for publishing their unpublished work.

They have also adopted technology and major portion of their sale goes from online markets like Amazon and Flipkart. “Sometimes we are amazed when we get orders of books like on Wahab Khar from Mizoram. 

The house produced old manuscripts of Wahab Khar, Samad Mir, Soch Kral and is currently working on legends like Rahim Saeb. Their book Voices of Mystic Kashmir is already a must read for Sufi lovers. The Publishers have been aggressive in getting quality material from outside too. With permission from original authors they managed to publish books like The vision of Islam, The Life of Mohammed (PBUH) by M H Haykal (Updated version with foreword by a Malaysian writer Ismail al Farooqi) , The Heart of Islamic Philosophy, The sultan of saints (Gousul Azam RA), Yusuf Zulaikha by Jami and others.

After 70 years the publishing house has been able to revive the literary contact with Pakistani Publishers and authors too, who according to Waseem have been welcoming to help. The House is set to publish number of Islamic books and other literature from Urdu giants of Pakistan.

Till date Jay Kay Books has published more than four hundred titles in English and around 150 in Urdu. They have resumed their work of collecting old manuscripts and publishing books from 18th to 19th century that were out of print.

The books include those on Kashmir History, Politics, English/Urdu/ Arabic Literature, Islam, Sufism, Sociology, Economics, Anthropology, Travel and Ancient History.  Besides local authors the house has published rare books on Kashmir written by foreigners and those were lost in the history.

Waseem says that the Publishers don't need subsidy from government but some policy tweaks that could make our students avid readers of literature they like. “Syllabus can make career but books will make life of people,” said Waseem. “Like outside we should develop a culture where we gift books to people on social occasions.”

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