If you are in the narrow lanes of Lal Kuan, Vakil Lane, it’s best you keep your e-readers inside your bag. Take a moment to breathe the pleasant scent of paper that greets you outside the Educational Publishing House founded in 1976.
Welcome to the land of freshly printed books! The smell of books resting on the shelves and tables is what made me fall in love with the place in an instant.
“As-Salaam-Alaikum, beta,” said a frail voice from the end of the room. Mohammed Mujtaba Khan, in his crisp grey kurta, kept the book Dastaan-e-Shehroz aside and welcomed me to his Urdu publication house. I later learnt that Dastaan-e-Shehroz is his favourite book and he’s already read it thrice!
The book business did run in the family. Born in 1938 and brought up in the Daryaganj, MM Khan’s father used to run a bookstore in Nai Sarak, but after partition, the shop was looted and burnt. Those were financially difficult times for the Khan family.
Hum Delhiwalle hokar bhi, refugee ban gaye (Despite being from Delhi, we were abandoned and treated like a refugees)said MM Khan, while enjoying his cup of tea
To make ends meet, MM Khan started working in various bookstores and earned Rs 30 per month. When not attending to the customers, the 15-year-old would glance through the pages of wrestling magazines. The young MM Khan soon took a liking to bodybuilding. “The owner used to give us Rs 1 for our meals. I would take that to the nearest halwai shop to eat food that was cooked in desi ghee only. So that I too could make my body just like the ones I saw in those magazines.”
It was at this time that MM Khan decided to turn a new page in his book of life.
“When I was in my early 20s, I packed my bags and headed to Karachi in 1960,” recollects the 80-year-old.
It was his love for bodybuilding and his dedication towards the profession that even after his long work hours, Khan used to go to the World Champion – Ghulam Mohammad Baksh aka The Great Gama’s Akhara to exercise. The same year, he lifted the first runner-up trophy of Mr Karachi with his ripped muscles.
There was no stopping MM Khan. He returned to India after staying a year in Karachi and participated and won the Junior Mr Delhi title.
Uss zamane mein, there were no supplements or protein powders. A pure ghee diet was the only ingredient for success.MM Khan
Sitting in his room, Khan proudly displayed all his trophies. And with pride and enthusiasm, showed his accomplishment to me. He was named second runner-up in Mr Hercules 1963 and won the title in 1966. He was crowned Mr Delhi in 1965, and again in 1967. Khan also won the title of Mr Himalaya 1969. But the cherry on the cake was in 1970, when Khan won the title for Mr India.
But how did Khan manage to finance himself?
Kar liya kissi tarah. In those days, it was all self-funded. There were no sponsors like the ones you have today. So the money I had earned and saved from bookstores helped me get my name written in the history of bodybuilding.Khan
Does he miss the life of bodybuilding?
Not really. I had started Delhi Bodybuilding Club where I had trained over 2,000 boys. I was even called as a judge for different bodybuilding competitions, and I used to strike poses before the competition started, which I must admit was a lot of fun.MM Khan
But now the publishing house has taken most of his time.
In the last four decades, Educational Publishing House has won over 12 awards, including ‘Best Publishing House’ and internationally ‘Best Quality Management’ Award in 2012 in Vienna.
“Life’s good,” says the contented Khan, while he longingly stares at his bodybuilding trophies and publishing house awards.