RAM ADVANI BOOKSELLERS sits in the heart of Hazratganj, an upscale shopping district in Lucknow, India. The store opened in 1947, just a few months before Partition, when Ram Advani fled Lahore, in the newly forming Pakistan, and set up shop in his new (old) country. In a city known at the time for its devotion to highbrow culture, aristocratic pleasures, and courtly manners, the place quickly became a destination and meeting point for the intellectual crowd, and Advani, now 88 and still running the business, acquired a reputation as an erudite host, known particularly for hand-picking recommendations for his customers based on long discussions with them.
Advani’s son, Rukun, who spent much of his childhood in the store, remembers the refinement and polish of the place, the neat rows of books, and the near-constant flow of learned patrons seeking to converse with his father. What he recalls most, however, is the single shelf in the children’s section that prominently displayed the work of the British children’s author Enid Blyton. “I was all of eight and a half years old in 1964, when I took The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage off the shelf,” says Rukun, who now runs Permanent Black, a well-known publishing house in Delhi. “I hadn’t read anything as good as that book before, ever, so I was hooked and read everything else by Blyton that I could lay my hands on for the next three or so years.”
At the time, Blyton’s books were just starting to become widely available in India, though Ram Advani recalls having seen stray copies in the 1940s and 50s. “I stocked these books,” Advani says, “because there was a demand, and it was taken for granted that a store like mine, which kept only books in the English language, would have the whole lot of the Enid Blyton series on hand. I confess I never read them.”