Culture & Society

Preserving Kashmir’s Literary Legacy: The Enduring Story Of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad & Sons Publications

The history of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Taajraan-i-Kutub began with his grandfather, Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim, who hailed from a family with ties to Lahore, where he had a maternal house. He collected rare Persian manuscripts for his readers in Kashmir from Central Asia through Lahore Publishing Agency.

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From the ancient days when scribes transcribed manuscripts by hand to the medieval manuscripts, the advent of the printing press in the 15th century marked a revolutionary turning point. This technology allowed for the mass production of books, giving rise to notable establishments like Gutenberg’s Press in Europe and the Arabic House of Wisdom in Baghdad, which paved the way for intellectual exchange.

In the landscapes of Kashmir, however, the concept of traditional publishing houses took a different route. While the rest of the world saw the emergence of printing presses, the Valley of Kashmir remained steeped in oral traditions and handwritten manuscripts. It wasn’t until the modern era that the region witnessed the establishment of its publishing houses. One of the oldest names in Kashmiri publishing history is Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad & Sons Tajraan-i-Kutub. This marked a significant step towards modernising the literary landscape of the region, bridging the gap between age-old traditions and contemporary methods of knowledge dissemination.

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The history of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Taajraan-i-Kutub began with his grandfather, Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim, who hailed from a family with ties to Lahore, where he had a maternal house. He collected rare Persian manuscripts for his readers in Kashmir from Central Asia through Lahore Publishing Agency.

“At first, Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim had no formal shop, but his love for books was evident in his resourceful approach. Whenever there was a religious gathering or any other event in Kashmir, he would set up temporary stalls showcasing the books he had collected,” said Prof. Gulshan Majeed, an academician and historian.

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Majeed further added that after Ibrahim’s untimely demise, his son Sheikh Abdul Gaffar, stepped into his father’s shoes, determined to carry forward the legacy.

“With a keen sense of business acumen and a deep respect for his father’s vision, Sheikh Abdul Gaffar established famous bookshop at Baaghi-Sundar Chattabal, which was the business hub of that era where people from Central Asia and other pockets of world used to visit frequently,” said Majeed, adding that Under Gaffar’s supervision, the connection with Lahore’s budding publishing industry flourished, resulting in the publication of numerous Persian manuscripts.

These literary gems would travel through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road via Uri, enriching the literary landscape of Kashmir in delightful ways. The presence of this famous bookshop not only attracted customers who came to buy or read books but also inspired the emergence of other book outlets. 

Majeed revealed that the pivotal moment arrived with the publication of Persian manuscripts, Syed Ali Hamdani’s (RA) Awrad-i-Fathiya and Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani’s (RA) Qaseed-i-Gousiya. These cherished and scarce manuscripts were lithographed at Mohammadi Press and Taleem Press in Lahore. However, Kashmir witnessed the first ever availability of these texts and they quickly gained immense popularity among the people. He added that numerous Persian manuscripts were later translated into Kashmiri and Urdu language.

“Like his father, Sheikh Abdul Gaffar too made it possible to publish the manuscripts through Lahore Publishing agency,” said Majeed, adding that after demise of Sheikh Abdul Gafar, his son, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad, stepped forward to not only carry the torch of his father’s book business but to also expand it to greater heights. 

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However, prominent historian Chitralekha Zutshi also mentioned the brief history of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Taajraan-i-Kutub in her book Kashmir Contested Pasts: Narrative,  Sacred Geographies, and the Historical Imagination.

Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad is the most renowned publisher of Kashmir. He was not only the publisher but also a writer who authored two famous books — Bayaz I Waza Mehmood and Khawab Nama Hazarat Yousuf (AS). His Son Sheikh Bashir Ahmad informed Outlook that in the year 1934, his father  further propelled the family business by working under the title of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Tajrani Qutub at Maharaja Ranbir Singh Bazar, which eventually came to be known as Maharaj Gunj and till date remains one of the most popular publishing houses in Kashmir valley. 

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“During the reign of  Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, the landscape of Srinagar underwent a metamorphosis, with Lal Chowk emerging as a vibrant commercial hub. To seize upon the opportunities, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad made a bold decision to relocate his publication house to Maisuma Bazar, Budshah Chowk, a move that still stands today and has turned it a central point for literary enthusiasts in the heart of Srinagar,” said Bashir.

Bashir further said that in Maisuma, Sheikh started his publication house in a four-storied building with numerous rooms — each dedicated to specific categories of literature like Persian,  English,  Kashmiri, Arabic, etc. A special room was dedicated solely to Kashmiri literature, showcasing the region’s literary heritage and nurturing local talents by providing a platform for their works.

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“One of the most treasured rooms in the bookshop was the Quran section, which attracted devout readers and scholars alike. He carefully curated a collection of Qurans from foreign publications, each with unique artistic and calligraphic styles. These sacred texts hailed from different corners of the world, making the bookshop a rare destination for those seeking diverse editions of the Quran. Owing to the rich assortment of Islamic literature available at the store, it was later affectionately tagged as ‘Quran Manzil’,” said Bashir with smiling face.

Aside from expanding the business, Sheikh’s most significant achievement has been the collection and preservation of Kashmiri manuscripts. 

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“It is an era when the concept of publishing books was foreign to the valley. Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad took a bold initiative to change the course of literary history,” said Prof. Gulshan Majeed, former Director of Central Asian Studies at the University of Kashmir. He added that there was no publishing house in the Valley and during those times and books were primarily published from the Lakshmi Steam Press at Lahore.

Majeed revealed that Sheikh family requested Sheikh Hafizullah, the owner of Lakshmi Steam Press at Lahore to publish works of Kashmiri poets, writers and other intellectuals of Kashmir. This resulted in the publication of significant works like Yusuf Zulaikha, Meelad-un-Nabi, Jang Naam Khalid Bin Waleed, and many other prominent books of other scholars of that time.

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Majeed proudly shared that his father, Lass Khan Fida, received Rs 30 for Gull Baqawli in 1919

“Sheikh  family became the catalyst for a literary revolution in Kashmir, and their contributions resonate even to this day,” said Majeed.

In an ingenious approach to promote reading, the family leveraged the traditional megaphones used by book vendors on cycles. They sang the verses of Mehjoor, Rasool Mir,  Maqbool Shah Kralwari, etc. through the traditional megaphones, captivating the hearts of people, even those who were illiterate. This culture inspired people to purchase books.

As time passed, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad & Sons Tajraan-i-Kutub remained not only a thriving commercial enterprise but also a cultural institution that continued to shape the literary landscape of Kashmir. It continued to be a place where intellectuals, politicians, scholars, and literature enthusiasts gathered to indulge in animated discussions about politics, religion, literature, culture , fostering a spirit of enlightenment and education in the Valley for generations to come.

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The publishing house also wielded a significant influence in fostering the political awakening of the Kashmiri populace during the 1930s. Through the dissemination of these books, people became enlightened about their rights and learnt how others across the globe had struggled for their own rights. The renowned Reading Room Party, which defied the prevailing aristocratic norms of that era, became a hub of intellectual activity with a plethora of literature from Tajran Publishers. 

Scholars, students, and the common folk eagerly thronged to their shops to acquire books on subjects like literature, world affairs, politics, sociology, and other insightful topics.

Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad began publishing the works of emerging Kashmiri writers. This gesture not only encouraged the writers but also kindled a spark of literary expression in the Valley. 

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The publisher’s inspiring passion for literature led to the successful publication of manuscripts from numerous eminent authors. Among the notable works published by the publishing house were Gull Baqawli by Lass khan Fida in 1919, Bayaz-i-wazi Mehmood, Bayaz-i-Wahab Khar, Kashir Wanwun, Gulshan Naat, Tarana Mohammad Siraj, Gulzar Haqeeqat, Kalam-i- Haba Khatoon, Kaishir Sultani by Abdul wahab parry, Gulzar Haqani, Pooshi Bahar, Jangi Mauta, Jung Khaibar, Rehman Rahi’s book Nawroz-e-Subh, Hamdi Kashmiri’s acclaimed literary masterpiece Wadi Key Phool, Sooz-i-Nal by Akhtar Mohiuddin, Kalam-Madhosh by Dr AG Madhosh, and Ruba’iyat of Omer Khayam by Ghulam Nabi Khayal.

Additionally, the publication featured works like Pragash, Shumbu Nath Bhat’s Bal Ya’r, Ali Mohammad Lone’s Aes Te Che Insan, and Ghulam Mustafa Shah’s Mukamal Resh Nama.

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The literary offerings extended to Prem Nath Koul’s Aadan yaad Pemio, Mahkan Lal Koul’s Kulyat-i-Dilsooz, Sheikh Mehmood’s Divan Sheikh Mehmood, and Kuldeep Raina’s Sang Dil Baap. Dr. Shakeel-ul-Rehman’s Urdu Lisaniyat, Zabaan Aor Culture, Sultan Zain-ul-Aabidin, and Jagan Nath Azad’s Fikri Iqbal were also part of the notable publications.

The publishing house also  published Tareek-i-Tamadun-i-Kashmir by Dr Aziz Ahmad, Tareek-i-Hurriet-i-Kashmir, Mukamal-Twarek-i-Kashmir by Mohammad Din Fouq, and Shah Hamdan Hayat aur Qarnamay by Prof Shamas-ud-din Ahmad. 

While it’s impossible to encompass all the names of books as there are hundreds other literary offerings by notable writers published under Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Taajraan-i-Kutub, among those notable writers, Dr. AG Madhosh recalled his interaction with Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad when his first literary work was published by the publisher. 

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In the late 50s, Madhosh wrote a letter to Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad, expressing his desire to have his 16 poems published. 

“Sir I am a poet and have 16 poems ready for publication. Would you give me some space to have them published?” Wrote Madhosh. The kind response he received from Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad filled him with immense excitement as if he had won an international award.

Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad’s reply said: “Dear Madhosh, send your manuscript. If our experts find it ok, I shall publish it.”

Overwhelmed with joy and confidence, Madhosh sought the advice of his mentor, Late Gulam Nabi Hogroo, who was elated by the postcard and encouraged him to hurry to Srinagar with the manuscript. It was his first visit to Srinagar where he handed over the collection of poems to Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons. To his delight, within a month, his literary work titled Kalam-Madhosh was published and he received 100 copies of it from Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad’s publishing house.

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Recognising the importance of education and the need for quality textbooks, Sheikh took on the responsibility of publishing books for students from Class 1 to class 5 which became compulsory reading material for all government schools of State Board of School Education in Jammu and Kashmir. Among the notable textbooks published were Deen Ki Baatein, Faarsi ki kitab, Taaj Mahal Urdu Grammar, Urdu ki Kitaab, Shaheen English Reader, etc.

Justice (Retd) Hakim Imtiyaz of J&K High Court, whose first book was published by Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Taajraan-i-Kutub, recalled with fond memories: “It was in the year 1978 when I was at the threshold of my service career that the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir decided to celebrate Golden Jubilee of its creation in the year 1928. I undertook to write a research treatise on the constitutional and legal history of the State giving the developments which led to the formation of the High Court.”

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“For this purpose, Prof. Fida Hasnain suggested to me to visit two book shops — Noor Mohammad of Zaina Kadal and Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad at Maisuma, Srinagar. The former had by then switched over to the sale and distribution of stationary, I could not get much help from them. The latter one was a leading book shop of the city having a huge collection of books on variety of subjects including the history of Kashmir.”

Imtiyaz recalled, “I frequently visited the shop and in the process came in contact with the owner of the shop, late Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad. Sheikh Sahib had a pleasing personality and possessed a vast knowledge of the books on Kashmir. I found him always very helpful and cooperative. 
“I came to know from him that the firm he was running was originally established by his grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim whose son Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar (Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad’s father) had made a great contribution to strengthen the work of publishing books on Kashmir and Islam which was in infancy at that time. It goes to his credit that he got published rare manuscripts during early Dogra period, thus making a valuable contribution in the field.”

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Imtiyaz added that Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad first operated from Maharaj Ganj but after he started a shop at Maisuma, Srinagar, it became conveniently accessible to the book lovers who came to the city from rural areas in search of books on these subjects. His shop was not merely a publishing and book selling place, it was rather a great institution that was instrumental in preserving the rare books on Islam and Kashmir’s history. It was not only one of the largest establishment of its kind in the Valley, but also the single most important institution which dealt with in the mass production of low priced printed books in the said fields.

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“Apart from running a book publishing business, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad also find the time to serve Kashmir Booksellers and Publishing Association, which originally had been founded by him,” Imtiyaz added.

The Sheikh family, renowned for their centuries of service, earned the endearing nickname ‘Kitab’ among the people of Kashmir and they adopted the title ‘Kitab’ as a prefix to their family name in acknowledgment of their literary legacy. However, the Partition of 1947 dealt devastating blow, severing all ties with Lahore. Despite his heartbreak, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammed persevered and sought new partnerships with J.S. Santh Singh’s press in Delhi and Naval Kishor Press in Lucknow as replacements.

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Post-1947, the publishing house flourished, releasing hundreds of new books and preserving numerous old manuscripts, contributing to the vibrant publishing industry in Kashmir.Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad’s efforts extended to establishing the Kashmir Booksellers and Publishers Association, of which he served as the President until his demise. However, tragedy struck the publishing house on April 2, 1993, during the peak of turmoil, when a massive blaze engulfed their book collection along with other shops. Countless rare books and manuscripts turned to ashes, leaving an irreplaceable loss in its wake.

Devoted to the world of books and literature, Sheikh bore the immense burden of losing such a significant part of his legacy. The tragedy took a toll on his health. On February 23, 1999, he passed away, leaving the responsibility of the family business on the shoulders of his five sons. Each of them independently decided to carry on their father’s legacy by preserving and continuing the same business.

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The success of the family business owed much to the contributions of Ghulam Mohammad’s five sons. After Sheikh’s demise, one of his sons continued Haji Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad Sons & Taajran-i-Kitub in Budshah Chowk, Maisuma Bazar and his other son runs Shaheen Book Stall Publishers and Distributors, which is the sister concern of Haji Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad Sons and Taajran-i-Kitub. 

Among his sons, Sheikh Bashir Ahmad, the second son of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad, played a pivotal role in taking the publishing house to new heights. 

“On the suggestion of Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad, his son Sheikh Bashir started his own publishing house Jay Kay Books in 1973. Under the banner of Jay Kay Books and Kitab Mahal Publishers, Sheikh breathed new life into the business by reviving Kashmiri culture through books and reintroducing the writings of sufi scholars from around the world while also promoting Islamic literature,” said Sheikh Mohammad Waseem, Production Manager of Jay Kay Books.

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Imtiyaz said, “I am happy to know that Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad’s son Sheikh Bashir Ahmad and grandson Sheikh Wasim have not only maintained the high standards of the job set up by their ancestors but are also doing their best to make more and more contributions in the field of publishing in Kashmir on variety of subjects, particularly Islam, Sufism, and Kashmir history.” 

Jay Kay Books emerges as a dynamic force, not just continuing the legacy of its forefathers but also embracing modernity. With a keen eye on contemporary literature, Jay Kay Books brings a refreshing perspective to the literary scene in Kashmir. While Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad & Sons laid the foundation, Jay Kay Books expands the horizon by actively publishing modern works across various genres.

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The vast catalogue of their publication house boasted an extensive collection of books, including renowned works like The Meccan Revelation of Ibn Al Arabi, Dewan-i-Shamas Tabrez, Message from the East, The Gift of Hijaz, Conference of Birds, and The Life, Personality, and Writings Of Al-Junayd Bagdadi. Over the years, Jay Kay Books published hundreds titles in English and Urdu. Their repertoire spanned diverse subjects, encompassing Kashmir History, Kashmiri culture, politics, English, Urdu, and Arabic Literature, Islam, sufism, sociology, economics, anthropology, travel, and ancient history. Moreover, they sought to preserve older texts by reprinting 18th to 19th-century books that had gone out of print.

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With a commitment to excellence, Sheikh Bashir Ahmad embraced innovative changes, launching the family’s printing press in Delhi. This marked a significant shift in the publication house’s capabilities, allowing them to exercise greater control over the printing process and maintain the high standards of their books.

Jay Kay Books Production Manager Sheikh Muhammad Waseem said that they also published the books of renowned figures of Kashmir like Mohd Yousuf Ganei (Former Dean, Academics, University of Kashmir), Dr Satish Vimal (Renowned broadcaster and award-winning multilingual translator and author), Maroof Shah (renowned author), Prof. Mushtaq Ahmed Kaw (former Director of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir), Prof. Rattan Lal Hangloo (Vice Chancellor, University of Allahabad), Prof. Neelofar Khan (first woman Vice Chancellor of University of Kashmir), Peer Gyasuddin (former J&K deputy minster and close associate of Sheikh Abdullah), etc.

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Today, the journey of Jay Kay Bookshop and Kitab Mahal continues under the guidance of Sheikh Muhammad Waseem, the son of Sheikh Bashir Ahmad. Sheikh Muhammad Waseem, the diligent production manager, has been steadfastly continuing the rich legacy of his family business. Following in the footsteps of his father, he upheld the tradition of publishing and promoting literature that reflects the essence of Kashmir’s culture and heritage.
Through Waseem’s efforts, Jay Kay Books made numerous valuable contributions, ensuring works by both local and international authors reached readers in Kashmir and beyond. Waseem, driven by a passion for Sufi literature, is actively working on translating manuscripts of revered Sufi poets like Shamas Faqeer, Nyaam Soab, Wahab Khar, etc. into English.

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Under Waseem’s leadership, the publication house has transitioned to eco-friendly paper. Their books are now available not only in local bookstores but also on online platforms like Amazon, making them accessible to readers worldwide.

Waseem aimed to provide a platform for budding writers in the Valley, welcoming their literary works to be featured in their catalogue. Their dedication to fostering the literary community extended to collecting manuscripts of Sufi poets to be translated and shared worldwide. For anyone seeking to benefit from their publishing house’s services, Jay Kay Books remained steadfastly committed to helping and serving others in the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. 

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Waseem said that their commitment is to publish high-quality books at affordable prices. He said that their goal is to preserve heritage and make books accessible to all.

Jay Kay Books and Kitab Mahal share the motto: “The heritage we preserve and ‘hur haath mein hoo kitab’.” 

“Our focus is to safeguard older manuscripts and translate the works of Sufi poets into global languages and distributing these books to students in the future,” said Waseem.

Throughout its illustrious history, Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad and Sons Publication and its sister concerns have been more than just bookstores. They has been torchbearers of Kashmir’s literary legacy, a sanctuary of knowledge, and a nurturing ground for intellectual growth.

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