Ferozsons Limited

My thanks to many readers who have answered — or may yet answer — my begging call (see last Idlepost). Your kindness has already considerably improved my prospects for surviving the Canadian winter. I am sincerely grateful to all the friends of this mendicant Idleblog; God bless you!


Everything alive on this planet eventually dies and disappears, but this is no consolation for the losses. I use the term loosely, today, to include institutions as well as the biological entities. I learn from a correspondent that, for instance, the original Ferozsons bookstore, in the old Ghulam Rasoom building along The Mall, in Lahore, has permanently closed. There was a big fire five years ago, from mysterious causes, but the owners of the building and the proprietors of Ferozsons had done an heroic job of recovering from it. The bookstore reopened within a fortnight with fresh stock, at location. It closes now by a commercial decision.

The more glitzy chain branches remain open, scattered through the city’s middle-class enclaves. Many of this world’s more famous bookstores have hollowed out in this way. Most started as serious publishers, more than a century ago. (Ferozsons began thus in the 1890s, and still publishes in English and Urdu.) They discover that selling other people’s books is more remunerative. The imprint gives the retail brand cachet; the store becomes a landmark. Then, with the metastasis of modern half-education, it opens those branches. It is a business model that has, only recently, begun to fail. The big main branch with its big overheads is first to close, then the little candles snuff one by one. For the chain stores are mere utilities; each carries the same shortlist of (mostly lurid) bestsellers, now available cheaper from Amazon. They become magazine shops, and coffee shops, and trinket shops, and anything but book shops. They hire people who know nothing about books. By the time they terminate, there seems no cause for mourning.

Ferozsons (on The Mall) was a real bookstore. It had intelligent, knowledgeable, helpful staff, who treated each customer as a special case, including red-haired six-year-olds. I remember this from having been one; remember it as one does first love. My father taught in the College of Art; we lived in Nedous along the same road. It was the first bookstore with which I ever became acquainted, and the atmosphere of the place, even the peeling plaster, and a smell as if mixed from ink and barley broth, stays in my spiritual clothing — together with that old chestnut of a manifesto by Beatrice Warde, etched into Ferozesons’ front window:

+ This is a Printing Office / Crossroads of civilization / Refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time / Armoury of fearless truth against whispering rumour / Incessant trumpet of trade / From this place words may fly abroad not to perish on waves of sound, not to vary with the writer’s hand but fixed in time, having been verified by proof / Friend, you stand on sacred ground +

It was where I bought my first copy of Kim, with my precious folded rupees, along with my schoolbooks for St Anthony’s. As a grown man, returning to Lahore, my heart would race faster than my feet, each time I approached this holy place. On my shelves I still have books with the purple, wreathed “Ferozsons Limited” stamped in a corner of the front endpaper.

How can one live without appreciating the sacramental quality, even in passing things?