My parents are both from Kanpur (or Cawnpore, as the British called it). I grew up going there for the occasional summer holiday, and finding it worlds apart from Delhi and the life that I was used to. I knew that once upon a time the city was called the Manchester of the East, but by the time I came around to seeing it, it was a shadow of the great industrial city it once used to be.

I remember being about ten, and being completely perplexed when I got a project from school about my hometown. I didn’t quite know what that was. Where was I from? Was I really from Kanpur, a city I did not like? I decided to pretend I was from Agra. It was close enough to Kanpur, and there was lots of interesting history to it. I was being a turncoat, and I knew it.

Imagine my surprise now, when Kanpur keeps cropping up in my dissertation research. There is so much that happened in the city, which I had never known of. Kanpur was home to a branch of the Asiatic Lithographic Company’s Press that was set up in 1830, and the books printed at this press were far from ordinary. This quote from Ulrike Stark’s book, An empire of books, explains,

… even an important landmark such as the date and publication of the first Hindi literary text printed in the Hindi heartland cannot be established with certainty. There is some agreement that the credit goes to a Tulsidas Ramayan issued from the Asiatic Lithographic Company’s Press in Kanpur in 1832. This press has also been credited with printing the first Urdu book in the Urdu-speaking region, an edition of Bagh-o-bahar dating from the same year.

I cannot explain how thrilled I was when I read that. I had to write to my family the moment I saw it. If this does not make me fall in love with the city, I don’t know what will!

(The photograph in this post was found here, via this blog about a movie being conceived to document the story of the cloth mills of Kanpur)


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