It was during the unsettling phase of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 that a Frenchman, Mr. Emili Edward Moreau, came to the sanctified pilgrim town of Prayag (now called Allahabad), to seek his fortune. One of his greatest passions which ruled his life, was his love of reading. Although, a Frenchman by origin, he actually spent his childhood and received his education in England. In fact, he came to Allahabad as a representative of Bird & Company, Calcutta, and an English firm.
This love for reading led him towards establishing varied contacts with the printing/publishing world in England. His long standing, influential relationship with Arthur Henry Wheeler of England began thus. Then, for some reason not known to us, Mr. Moreau, decided to leave Allahabad. His one main hindrance to do so was his unwieldy personal collection of books, journals and magazines. This anthology, being of inestimable value to him, he had to decide to dispense with utmost care.
By a stroke of providence, Moreau reached Allahabad Railway Station one day and keenly observed the attitude of the long-distance travellers, especially the English. He noticed how these passengers, enthusiastically approached the book-laden almirahs.After observing the extreme popularity of magazines and journals with the numerous passengers of the Allahabad Railway Station, Moreau single-mindedly, decided to stay back and establish a bookstall business. Realizing the suitability and impact of using an English name for his firm, he approached Arthur Henry Wheeler to lend his name and goodwill as he was already a well-established figure in the realm of the English book trade. To this proposal, however, his friend readily agreed. Thus, was introduced the name ARTHUR HENRY WHEELER into the Indian network.
Moreau began expanding his business with the regular supply of books and journals which his patron sent over from England. After getting the permission from the Chief Commissioner of Railways, Government of India, they managed the Railway companies, and paid taxes to the Government out of the profit earned. But, when the bookstall business of Allahabad began in 1877, the work on the expansion of the Railway tracks had just commenced. Within a short period of time, Moreau succeeded in making his venture profitable not only in the major stations of Northern & Eastern Provinces, but, his business flourished till the farthest towns of the then undivided India. The Head office of A.H.Wheeler was established in Allahabad where it is still housed, even after 135 years. With its prosperity came along several prestigious names of well-known writers and publishers who began to communicate with the reading public through the “House of Wheeler”. Thus, within a short span, the Wheeler book-stalls became a genuine, and central attraction for the passengers, and the general book lovers, too.
During this period, a young author who would soon become world famous, got his first series of books published by the house of Wheelers. He was an Anglo-Indian gentleman called Rudyard Kipling and his book called Plain Tales from the Hills’ and six other stories were issued as the “Indian Railway Library Series” by A.H. Wheeler. These were the first publications of Kipling’s collection of stories.
The National Contribution
For Twenty two years, the stalls of Wheeler exhibited an over-whelming collection of foreign books and periodicals. 95% of the buyers were the English and the English-speaking nationals only. The Indian participation was extremely lukewarm. Even the higher grade employees of the head office and the branch offices at Bombay and Calcutta, under the wheeler’s supervision were mainly Englishmen or a few Anglo-Indians.
But, this whole scenario was transposed, when on 1st July, 1899, an ambitious bengali youth, the heir of the illustrious Banerjee family of Allahabad, Tinkari Kumar Banerjee (T.K.B.), joined the Calcutta office of Wheeler. T.K.B. managed to come under the focus of the Management, including their Chief, Moreau for his outstanding abilities and his efficiency in the maintenance of accounts and auditing. T.K.B. was then sent to the Allahabad Head Office. Hence, commenced a new chapter of his service and association with A.H. Wheeler.
By then, four more Companies, namely, ‘Merchants Advertising Agent’. “Bookstall properties and Contractors’, East India Colonial Agencies”, and ‘Symonds’, had begun collaborating with A.H.W. T.K.B., by sheer dint of his energy, perseverance, honesty, capability and presence of mind became a very trusted lieutenant of Mr. Moreau.
The Rising Tide of the National Dialect Publications
By this time, the very essence of the Wheeler book-stalls had begun changing. They began taking responsibilities for the advertisements of different companies of Indian Railways, besides selling books and journals in the various forms of the Indian vernacular. This created a stir amongst the Indian reading public. Inter-communication of readers began through the numerous newspapers and periodicals all over India, with the help of the Wheeler network. By publishing head lines and various news items of the national movement, the House of Wheeler contributed towards the political scene during India’s strive for Independence in its own unique way.
The Indian Amalgamation
The triumph of a selling organisation of foreign paper-backs and magazines, amidst an essentially Indian set-up occurred reticently. This revolutionary transformation took place during the British regime, which demonstrated a sensational story on its own.
T.K.B. at this time, was authorised with the sole responsibility of maintaining the company accounts. This earned him the disfavour of all highly placed English officials and the Anglo-Indians. But, Mr. Moreau, veritable philanthropist, stood by him against all racial discriminations, wholly seconded by his ally, ARTHUR WHEELER, on this score.
The Wheeler authorities, while expanding their realm of business, with four other commercial concerns, realised that the forever-honest and dependable T.K.B. was their most valuable asset. At the turn of the century, this Bengali immigrant without any substantial commercial background, had begun to prove his merits in the management of a huge, foreign firm.
But in 1922, after the first Great World war, the management of Wheeler was brutally shaken when Moreau discovered a massive financial defalcation in his firm. Through T.K.B. he gathered sufficient evidence that some of his partners had a hand in his monetary breakdown. In utter despair, Moreau approached some British banks for money.
Through all his financial crisis, Moreau found his loyal employee, T.K.B., always by his side. Greatly moved by his undivided dedication, Moreau took T.K.B. as one of the partners of the company in 1922.
After Ten years, a special post was created for T.K.B. as a Senior Working Partner, while Moreau continued to be the Goodwill Partner. Once more, with adverse circumstances long overcome, the Company began to prosper. On 31st January 1937, Moreau transferred his Goodwill Partnership in the name of T.K.B, and left for England where he died on 20th January 1940.
The foreign firm was thus, historically nationalized. There were still Ten years left for India’s freedom. Two Englishmen, Mr.Brand and Mr. Killer, remained as minor partners. Mr. Anukul Chandra Banerjee, the eldest son of T.K.B. joined in with them. In order to avoid complications, in 1944 T.K.B. abandoned the partnership system. The entire responsibility was laid on the able shoulder of the Goodwill Partner, while three minor Partners stayed on as temporary paid employees.
On 26th Sept.1944,the firm lost its strongest pillar of strength. Dedicated till his last breath,T.K.B. left for his heavenly abode, leaving behind his eldest son Anukul Chandra Banerjee and his youngest Rajendra Nath Banerjee, as the two main partners of the firm. This dynamic duo, working as a team, took hold of the firm’s reins, and led it towards glorifying heights.
Wheeler became the All- India representative of some reputed English publishers-Pitman, Penguin etc., to name a few. Through the tails of Anukul Chandra Banerjee, M/s Harry Clarks & Company of Allahabad, came under the banner of A.H.W. Symonds, controlled by Wheeler, became the Indian representative of the world renowned sports goods manufacturers, “Slazengers” of England.
With the collaboration of ‘Slazengers’, Symonds opened its own manufacturing unit in Allahabad, .within a few years of Independence , which on its own ,soared the peaks of success in the sporting arena.
Its Role in the National Movement
The famous political person and film maker, Mr. Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, once wrote that the Wheeler Bookstalls played a major role in imparting love for the motherland and had also aided his own mental development as a student. Recalling his days of youth, he wrote that since early in the morning , with his friends , he ‘d stand at the Wheeler stand at Aligarh station awaiting the arrival of the bundles of numerous newspaper and journals which contained the trial of the revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, the sensational news of Gandhiji, Salt Satyagraha Movement, The Dandi March, news of cultivators movement under Sardar Patel in Khera etc. they discovered socialism from the news published in different news papers, collected from the Wheeler bookstalls and, also got version of the conflicts between Communist and Fascists. Books written by Gandhiji, besides the works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad,Dr. Zakir Hussain,Dr. Radhakrishnan, Tagore, Tulsidas, Sri.Aurobindo, Mahadevi Verma, Rahul Sankritiyan,Nirala,Mulkraj Anand, Prem Chand, Vibhuti Bhushan Bandhopadhaya, Sarat Chandra and other eminent writers were available in this store-house of books.
On many occasion, various political leaders and members of parliament have remarked about the Wheeler Stalls being a foremost companion during rail journey, and an impregnable link between the Indian Railways and the cultural heritage of India. Hence, it can be safely concluded that by propagating the sale of newspapers , magazines , and books in different languages of the nation, through their net work, they immensely furthered the cause of national integration.
WHEELER TODAY THE THIRD AND FOURTH GENERATION
The 135 year old management of the ‘House of Wheeler ‘ had reached the hands of the third generation whose dynamism, adaptation of the modern commercial instincts of survival, and notable diversification capabilities, has rendered a new genesis in the history of this organization. The administration of Anukul Chandra Banerjee and Rajendra Nath Banerjee, comprising the second generation ended between 1980- 1985, from whence, their illustrious sons- Mr. Pradip Banerjee, Mr. Alok Banerjee, Mr. Prabir Banerjee, Mr. Subir Banerjee, and Mr. Prashant Banerjee took over. However, Mr. Prabir Banerjee, an intense & strong person, died untimely in 1982, leaving behind him, an immense void. Of the third generation, the surviving members, Mr. Alok Banerjee and Mr. Subir Banerjee are presently the Chairman and Managing director of the company respectively.
The modernisation of the bookstalls, and the changed ‘modus operandi’ exhibits the broadened horizons of the management. Keeping in mind the highly competitive futuristic trends, the fourth generation has already been put to task. Mr. Arunjeet Banerjee & Mr. Amit Banerjee, Directors, are being ably assisted by their four brothers, Jayant, Somit, Ranjit and Debasish to look after all the aspects of the business.
The ‘House of Wheeler ‘as it presently stands, is a WHOLLY owned Indian concern, providing livelihood, directly or indirectly, to about 5000 people.
As assessed, the number of the variety of journals which this institution passes forth to its readers exceeds over 1000; the sale of various publications is conducted on an unbiased basis, regardless of political outlooks. Their only aim is to justify the hard labour of the authors and publishers, through the short space of their stalls.
With the future of the concern in their hands, the Fourth generation has already begun to carve its own niche in the publishing and book distribution industry of the country..