Lawyer's Book Stall: Pioneers of Publishing in Assam
The oldest commercial hub of Guwahati – Panbazar - is today the educational hub of the city, a book lover’s paradise with several book stores luring readers with their grand showcasing of the newest of the releases given at attractive discounts.
Yet Lawyer's Book Stall, in a temporary looking old-fashioned store, continues to hold its iconic position amongst the Assamese people.
Established in 1942, this bookstore cum publishing house has been standing tall for the last 78 years.
It was set up by Bichitra Narayan Dutta Baruah and his brother Hari Narayan Dutta Baruah.
Being well educated and enterprising, the two brothers started off with a small printing press named Uma Press in Nalbari. Named after their mother, it was established in 1924. They published the 'Chitra Bhagavad', an expensive endeavour that was accomplished with the patronage of the King of Gauripur.
Bichitra Narayan Dutta Baruah was an advocate in the Gauhati High Court. But due to lack of interest in the legal profession, young Bichitra took early retirement and turned into a book publisher and seller.
While Bichitra Narayan established the Lawyer's Book Stall (LBS), his brother Hari Narayan founded Dutta Baruah & Co, another wing that published religious texts.
LBS got its name from the proprietor's earlier profession and in its initial days catered mostly to the law students. The store continued to have a separate section for law books for decades.
It also started publishing textbooks and other general interest books. One of the pioneers in publishing English language books in the state, LBS published works of intellectuals like Birinchi Kumar Baruah, Bani Kanta Kakati, Hem Barua, Maheshwar Neog, and others.
The store managed to acquire its iconic status when Bichitra Narayan's son, Khagendra Narayan Dutta Baruah (Bhutu) took over in 1970.
‘Adda’ of eminent writers and other intellectuals were almost a daily ritual.
Although commercially challenging, LBS promoted new talent.
As LBS started publishing books of all genres, many writers broke away from the Delhi-based publication houses and joined forces with LBS. At the peak of its publication days, LBS used to publish about a hundred new titles a year, apart from the reprints - a milestone for an independent publisher.
Some of its prominent publications include the monumental Anglo-Assamese Dictionary by Budhindranath Bhattacharyya, the works of eminent Assamese short story writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner late Saurav Kumar Chaliha, and renowned scholar Hiren Gohain.
Lawyer’s Book Stall faced some major setbacks after the demise of Khagendra Dutta Baruah as many writers left the publication. Also, a massive fire in 2004 even led to a change of the store’s location for some time.
This iconic book store's third-generation proprietor Bhaskar Dutta Baruah consolidated the establishment and set it back on its track. He established a readers’ forum in 2009 and published a newsletter called ‘Book Update’ in an effort to continue the family's legacy.
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