I believe a Bookshop is a Temple; Customer-a presiding deity; And I the Priest to serve and worship. M.G. Arora*
ONE To ONE conversation with Mr. S.K. Ghai , Director of The Institute of Book Publishing India.
Q. You are a self-made man and a successful law bookseller how did you start and what was your journey like?
A. I was born on 8 th March, 1933 in an agriculturist family in a remote village that is now in Pakistan. I was studying in 8 th class when the partition of India took place. Our whole family moved to a refugee camp in Pakistan where all the occupants used to get meal mixed with sand which resulted in the family getting sick. My grandfather died in the camp followed by my father and my sister who also passed away after migration to India within a span of six months. My ailing mother and I moved to Ambala Cantonment where I joined a high school. After matriculation I applied for admission in a college for further studies but in view of my activities associated with the ideology of RSS, I was denied admission in college. I stayed with my elder brother who had also migrated from Pakistan and was engaged in medical practice. In order to avoid financial burden on my elder brother I joined as a part-time trainee working on a lathe machine in a factory engaged in manufacturing scientific instruments and in my spare time I started teaching some primary students to make a living. At the age of 15, I was arrested in Ambala Cantonment for being a member of RSS which was banned by the Government of India but was released because I was underage. To avoid further complications I moved to Allahabad in 1951 and joined as a salesman with Central Law Agency. I toured various States of India and realized the value of books as people showed extraordinary respect to me as a messenger of knowledge.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. Being an RSS member I used to attend Shakhas (daily classes) regularly and also participated in various activities and movements started by them so I couldn't devote myself completely to my job with Central Law Agency. A few times my employers adjusted with me but they could not do so for long. So in 1956 I left the job and moved to Delhi and started my own business from my house with only Rs. 100 as savings in my pocket. I rented a bicycle and began visiting lawyers and law courts selling them books which I took from publishers on short term credit. Later, in the year 1960 I started a bookshop opposite new Tis Hazari Courts in Gokhale Market. So life started and today 58 years have passed and I have never looked back. I believe Success is not a destination but a journey, and I am enjoying the journey everyday.
Q. Share your experience as a salesman and as a bookseller?
A. During my job in Allahabad, while on a tour in Orissa in 1953, I was travelling on a train from Puri to the then newly developed Ganjam district to obtain orders for the law library. It was a day journey and the ticket collector came to check the tickets. Mostly passenger did not have tickets and were paying the fare to the ticket collector who was keeping the money in his pocket. I was perhaps the only one in compartment with a ticket. He stared at me as if I had done something wrong.
This left an impression on me and I couldn't sleep. During the night with a candle, I wrote a postcard narrating this incident to the then Railway Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shashtri. After a few weeks I returned from the tour and found a letter in response to my postcard from the minister's office asking me to see him when he next visits Allahabad. I immediately wrote back saying that I am a travelling salesman, and so I will not be able to know the date of the minister's visit. One fine morning a police officer came to my house and asked me to accompany him to the minister. I went to him to Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri who smiled and asked me to sit by his side. He introduced me to all the senior railway officers and others present in the conference room. Then he took out my first postcard and read out the prevailing state of affairs in the railway department. I was really impressed by Shastri Ji's simplicity, sincerity and quick action. What a difference now?
As a bookseller, I came in close contact with a number of judges, scholars, jurists, law officers and advocates of high academic distinction. Sometimes I have gone out of my way to help the customers by procuring rare and out of print titles for them. Due to this I earned a well deserved reputation. Once Shri K.R. Naraynan then President of India asked me for a book which was out of print. I procured that book from a UK publisher, who sent the same complimentary. I personally rushed to Rashtrapati Bhawan to deliver that book. He asked me how much to pay and I said nothing sir as it has come complimentary. This and many other such instances have really paid me in the long run. I can not live without going to my bookshop daily. I enjoy doing this as I believe a Bookshop is a Temple; Customer, a presiding deity and I the priest to serve and worship. I would love to be known as a modest, humble and straightforward bookseller.
Q. From a successful law bookseller what prompted you to start publishing?
A. My relationship with my customers and lawyers are friendly. One day my friend Shri H.L. Kumar, a lawyer came to me and said "Why don't you publish Delhi Shops and Establishment Act which I have authored?" I couldn't say no. So with this I started publishing and it became our first book.
In 1995, I promoted a Company "Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd." for publishing books by eminent authors, judges, advocates of high academic distinction and law teachers. We have also reprinted over 200 best selling titles on law under licence from more than two dozen internationally known publishes of UK, USA, Australia, Malaysia and Netherland with the objective of making these books available at affordable prices for the benefit of students and professionals. I am proud to say that Universal has built-up a well- deserved reputation in the legal world that continues to be reflected in our ever increasing range of publications and a large number of Bare Acts, Rules and Statutes.
Q. I learnt that you were arrested during the Emergency? What was your experience in Tihar Jail?
A. I was arrested many times, first in Ambala Cantonment in 1949 when the RSS was banned and then in Lucknow in 1954 on my taking part in the Go Raksha Andolan . In the years 1974-75, I was actively associated with " Sampoorna Kranti Movement " headed by Loknayak Jai Prakash Narain when Emergency was imposed. So in 1975 I was arrested and sent to Tihar Jail, where I came in close contact with many political leaders, students and political workers who were also arrested at the time. I saw and observed them closely and realized that a majority of people in politics are in it for monetary gains rather than to serve society. I also learnt that there is no room for me in politics. I used to spend a lot of time in the jail library. Though I was released on bail I could not attend to my business and family throughout the Emergency period of 18 months as I was hounded by the local police. During this time my school going children looked after the business.
Q. You were the President of DSBPA in 1990-93. Any experiences you would like to share?
A. I have been active in DSBPA and FPBA for a long time and held many positions in these Associations. I was made the Chairman of Joint Action Committee (JAC) of both the Associations to discipline the book trade and make them adhere to the Good Offices Committee (GOC) decisions. The Committee was very active and strict to take disciplinary actions against members for violation of rules. Even some senior members of the executive were not spared. Overall the members cooperated with us and we were able to bring discipline in the book trade.
Q. I learnt that you have earned a place in Limca Book of Records. How were you selected for the same?
A. On completing 50 years in the book trade and service to the legal profession, the Bar Association of India for the first time decided to honour a non-legal person for providing service to the legal profession. They considered me as a supplier of knowledge to the legal profession. I was honoured and a souvenir was released during the function. This was the reason I was included in the Limca Book of Records, 2004 edition. I also received awards: Distinguished Booksellers Award (1997 from FPBA); Excellence in Law Publishing Award (1998 from FIP); Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade (1999 from FPBA); Lifetime Achievement Award presented to me by FPBAI in their 54 th AGM 2008. Federation of Indian Publishers organized a special function in 2007 where a plaque of honour was given to me by the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Delhi Smt. Sheila Dikshit.
Q. How would you describe a good book?
A. A good book is the one which should appeal to the reader and whose contents serve the purpose.
Q. How have you distributed the work between yourself and your family?
A. Not only my sons, my daughter-in-laws and my grandson are also contributing to this family business. I have three sons and all have training in retail trade as I consider it a must for success in publishing. This helps in knowing your customer's mind. Pradeep, the eldest, is a law graduate and looks after publishing and editing of books and reprinting of foreign books in India and his wife Neena also takes interest. Sanjeev , a graduate from Delhi University looks after the marketing and wholesale distribution of our publications and his wife Vibha is an advocate in the High Court and also a member of the Supreme Court of Bar Association. Manish, did a doctorate from Harvard Law School, USA. He is an Advocate practicing in Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India and looks after the acquisition of new authors and liaises with the legal fraternity. He also runs a Law Institute to train law entrance students and lawyers for Judicial Service Exams and his wife Purnima looks after the management of the Institute. My grandson Anubhav, a graduate, and an MBA from Lincoln University (UK) looks after the retail business. Though I have no responsibility I cannot live without coming to the shop come what may. I believe that as long as you work you are young, otherwise you are growing old.
Q. You have been dealing with multinationals. Please share your experience in dealing with them.
A . Universal being wholesale distributors have very cordial relations with the foreign publishers and their associates in India. We regularly import various law related books and journals from UK and USA and also stock their books published in India. But I feel concerned about their way of functioning and the impact of 100% FDI in book publishing in India. The study conducted by some booksellers and publishers associations in India show that more and more Indian publishing companies are being taken over by foreign firms. Some leading law publishing companies have lost their independent status during the recent past. The price fixation formula of foreign companies functioning in India is much higher than the Indian publishers, resulting in high price.
Q. You believe a good book is an excellent friend. What do you prefer to read?
A. I prefer to read autobiographies, biographies of legal professionals, eminent freedom fighters, revolutionaries and people awarded and honoured for their extraordinary achievements. I love reading and have my personal library in my office and even in my car.
Q. How do you manage to look so relaxed?
A. I am a satisfied and content person and my motto now is not to work for financial gain alone, I work so that I can continue to work.
Q. Do you have any hobby?
A. I sing patriotic songs and love to watch patriotic and historical movies and watch TV serials on Aastha and Sanskar. I also enjoy attending functions related to the legal profession, legal education and book trade.
Source: IBP Publishing Today–Nov. 2009.