A space to preserve literary legacy
Known to be one of the oldest establishments in Delhi, JM Jaina & Brothers has remained a part of this quarter for the last 94 years.
In the early hours of the day, the main road at Mori Gate is astir - a cacophony of honks from cars fill the air as vehicles, push carts, and pedestrians jostle their way out of the space. Decrepit buildings and old infrastructure dominate this neighbourhood that is believed to be one of the major hubs in India where one can find an assortment of auto components.
In this busy zone lies a quaint bookstore named JM Jaina & Brothers. The calm ambience within the store is in stark contrast with the commotion that is witnessed in its surrounding area. Known to be one of the oldest establishments in the city, the store has remained a part of this quarter for the last 94 years. Their specialty is stocking and selling academic books across subjects be it law or accounts and more.
As we approached the store, we observed the current owner, Akalank Kumar Jain (52) seated at the counter. A helper - at another end of the store - seemed pre-occupied as he carefully examined the stock received. As we scanned the space from the outside, we noticed that towering shelves of books across domains - medical, engineering, civil services, law - form a major part of the store.
Built by generations
JM Jaina & Brothers was set up by Akalank's grandfather, Lala Jaini Mall Jain in 1928. "When my grandfather had set up this shop, there were only five to six other shops in the vicinity. Ours was the only bookstore here," he shared.
Theirs was the only shop that would, in the late 20s, import newspapers and books from abroad - they would sell books in foreign languages. The store is known to be frequented by several freedom fighters including Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Feroze Gandhi.
The shop also kept copies of Harijan, a weekly newspaper that was started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1933. "It was quite popular back then," he said.
Post 1935, JM Jaina & Brothers also started distributing publications by the Government of India's (GOI). They continue to sell GOI’s books such as CPWD Specifications, among others. "From the last few years, the government has stopped publishing books. The policy of the current government is to go for e-books. We used to sell The Gazette of India but its printing has discontinued," mentioned Akalank, who has been handling operations of the store since the last 35 years - he was 17 when he started assisting his father, Narender Jain.
The digital impact
There was a time when buyers would specifically visit JM Jaina & Brothers from other states in search of a certain book. "Before the internet became prevalent, people would come to us from other states because these books were available only in Delhi," he said.
However, Akalank admits that sale of books on digital platforms and e-commerce has significantly impacted their business, especially in the last two years. "People tend to buy books online, and have stopped visiting bookstores. Before COVID-19, there was just an impact of about four per cent but the switchover to online distributors has been pretty significant especially during the pandemic," he says.
However, Akalank is certain that their shop is here to stay. The bookstore also has its own publishing house - Akalank Publications was set up in the early 1970s - where books related to law and civil services are printed.