Maktaba in Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar is now shut: Wake up Jamia Millia


Mohammed Wajihuddin

MUMBAI—Late Dr Zakir Hussain, among the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, was also instrumental in establishing Maktaba Jamia. Over the years it created a name for itself in publishing and selling Urdu books. Generations of writers and readers have benefited from it.

Alas, Zakir Sahab, a bibliophile who also wrote and spoke chaste Urdu, must be turning in his grave as the Maktaba’s outlet at Urdu Bazaar in Delhi, shut recently. This is among the oldest and earliest Maktaba outlets in the country.

As if shuttering the bookshop, a landmark and famous haunt of Urdu book lovers and buyers, was not insulting enough, a keba counter has occupied the space outside the closed shop. The message is loud and clear: To hell with the books, enjoy the kebabs.

My friend, senior Urdu journalist Masoom Moradabadi raised a banner of protest at the sudden and unannounced closure of Maktaba’s outlet in old Delhi a couple of days ago. He reports that the only staff member who managed the shop for years has been retired. Since perhaps Jamia is facing financial crunch, it decided to shut the outlet, instead of finding a replacement for the person who managed it for years. They threw the baby with the bath water.

There are many branches of Maktaba across the country. Let me tell you a little story about Maktaba’s branch near J J Junction at Bhendi Bazaar in Mumbai. A decade or so ago, a friend told me that the manager at the Maktaba was asked by the Jamia authorities to take the accounts’ file to Delhi. The manager feared perhaps Jamia was planning to shut down the Mumbai branch of Maktaba.

Some Urdu journalist friends in the city acted quickly, banded together, invited senior Urdu writers and journalists, including Hasan Kamal, to the Maktaba’s doorstep and held a press conference. Kamaal sahab and others recalled hoe Maktaba had served generations of Urdu writers and readers in the city. I spoke to even poet Nida Fazli who was livid at the very thought that Maktaba in Mumbai could be shut. TOI carried a detailed report, tracing Jamia’s origin, Zakir Sahab’s tireless efforts to ensure that Jamia stood on its feet.

Once upon a time, Maktaba was making good profits and even owned good literary magazines for adults and children.
The publication of stories about the possible shuttering of Maktaba in Mumbai created a storm. The news reached then Jamia VC Prof Mushirul Hassan. Hassan, through his communication officer, immediately issued a statement, denying any plans to close Maktaba. On the contrary, the VC said, there were plans afoot to expand and upgrade it.

Much water has flowed down the Yamuna since then.
Understandably, the sale of Urdu books has taken a nosedive. The Covid-induced lockdowns gave a fatal jolt to the book business globally. Yet, it is painful to see a Central university like Jamia allowing its famous entity, Maktaba, to die so easily.

If the present VC of Jamia, Dr. Mrs Najma Akhtar, has not been told about the shutting of Maktaba’s old Delhi branch till date, her advisors should be taken to task. If she is aware of it, she should see that the shop is reopened and the cart selling the kebabs outside it is removed at the earliest. This is the time for Jamia to wake up. And for Urdu lovers everywhere to persuade Jamia to act before it is too late. Besides, Urdu lovers must get back to buying books. This is the only way bookshops can survive.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here