Vizag’s age-old bookstore that stood the test of time: It all started with a woman scorned… unlikely as it seems, the concept of setting up a bookstore, specifically the Gupta Brothers, is actually the outcome of a haughty man dismissing and belittling a woman. Yo! Vizag delves into the interesting origins of the store.
The store was established in the pre-independence era of India, in the year 1916 by Sri Jagannath Gupta at the Reading Room junction in One Town area. A prime locality back then, the store was opened initially with the intention of selling books. However, over time, the store stocked almost everything from brooms to crowbars, tubes of toothpaste to neem sticks! “My great-grandfather, V Jagannath Gupta came up with the notion that the store should be unique. ‘If you don’t get something elsewhere, try at Gupta’ should be the norm, he felt, describes the present generation owner of Gupta Stationery, Chalmaji Gupta. V Jagannath Gupta was born in Bobbili and the family settled in Kolamasivanipalem (presently Kotha Valasa). A freedom fighter and teacher at the CBM High School, in 1936, he was elected as Member of Legislative Assembly from Anakapalle. (Provincial elections were held in British India in 1936-37. Although, the victorious party, the Indian National Congress resigned in 1939, protesting India’s involvement in the Second World War.) It was in independent India, in 1952, he was directly nominated as Member of Parliament from Vizag constituency, making him the first nominal MP. “My great-grandfather was one of the 171 signatories of the first house of the parliament in independent India”, says Chalmaji with a touch of nationalistic and family pride.
My great grandfather was one of the 171 signatories of the first house of the parliament in independent India.
Speaking about the store, he describes the circumstances that led to it. “A leading shop owner, B Rammaiah had a major grouse against a Physics lecturer in the AVN College; the lecturer used to procure books directly from publishers and sell them to the students, eating into Rammaiah’s sales. When Rammaiaih complained to the Collector, the lecturer approached my great grandfather’s elder brother for assistance. Though the elder brother refused to intervene, Rammaiah also arrived there to voice his say in the discussion – that is when my great grandfather’s mother entered the conversation, only to be chided by Rammaiah that ‘you are just a woman, you stay out of this’. Stung by his disparaging dismissal, the elderly lady called her second son, my great-grandfather, V Jagannath Gupta, and convinced him to open a bookstore with the books procured from the lecturer. Though deeply involved in the freedom struggle, VJ Gupta eventually agreed to his mother’s suggestion and hired someone to man the store while he continued his fight for independent India. My grandfather Rammmurthy Gupta assisted his father to manage the store.”
VJ Gupta was very fond of the Japanese, and consequently, the store stocked a lot of Japanese stationery to the extent that he was allegedly called Japan Gupta, adds Chalmaji. Products from Japan, Czechoslovakia, England, US, Taiwan, France and other parts of the world could be sourced at the Gupta store. Eventually, Rammurthy Gupta and his younger brother VGK Gupta parted ways and Gupta Brothers was divided– the elder brother dealing with stationery and the younger with books.
In 1970 VGK Gupta started an exclusive bookstore with emphasis on academics opposite Chitralaya Theatre; while Rammurthy Gupta and his son started the Gupta and Sons store in Jagadamba area in 1972. In 1982 the Gupta Brothers Stationery and later the Gupta House of Stationery were opened in Dwarkanagar. Spread over 2500 sft, it was the biggest stationery outlet back then. Today Chalmaji Gupta runs Gupta Stationery and the newly opened Gupta Art Store. Sourcing goods from a dealer in Mumbai, the stores stock the finest quality art materials and stationery. Commenting about the present state of affairs he says, “Vizag has developed a lot but even today we hold our stand in the city. And in spite of the preference for online shopping, we still have good customers. Though I am happy running these stores, I feel it is both an asset as well as a liability. Aware that I would eventually end up running the store, I never focused on my own education; all my cousins are educated and successfully settled abroad. I believe that had I concentrated more on my education, perhaps I could have improved the business further. Business is much more complicated than just selling and buying. I did open an e-commerce store some time back, stationeryestore.com, but it still has to really take off. A physical brick-and-mortar store constricts us, but an online store allows for more leeway. My online store is a gift of sorts to my great-grandfather; I intend to take his enterprise to greater heights.”