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San Franciso's City Lights bookstore continues to act as a fulcrum of alternative culture
City Lights bookstore in San Francisco's Columbus Avenue
City Lights bookstore in San Francisco's Columbus Avenue

A strip club stands opposite the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco&rsquos Columbus Avenue. While customers browse through its inimitable collection, orange neon-lit girly cutouts glow at the strip club end as reaffirmation of sensory lives existing against morality censors.

Just as well for it was City Lights&rsquos publishing arm that first brought out in 1956 Beat legend Allen Ginsberg&rsquos seminal Howl and Other Poems &mdash a collection later booked by authorities for obscenity. Howl has since sold in millions. It&rsquos a book that some
contend &lsquomade&rsquo City Lights while others consider it mind-expanding. Ginsberg and the Beats, heavily promoted by City Lights, are often credited as flag-bearers of the 1960s counter-culture tide.

That wave had touched Indian shores. City Lights has published works of Kolkata&rsquos Hungry Generation writers and poets &mdash befriended by Ginsberg &mdash when they faced a ban and arrest for obscenity. Indian writers retain a strong presence here.

Having turned sixty, City Lights&rsquo continuance as a fulcrum of alternative culture was acknowledged by San Francisco authorities when they granted it historic landmark status in 2001 &mdash a first for a business entity.

Its founder and poet-painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti is present through books and photographs. City Lights too lures lovers of alternative world literature and curious visitors &mdash posters mentioning &lsquoBooks not Bombs&rsquo, &lsquoClothed or nude, we are not obscene&rsquo and &lsquoCorporations aren&rsquot people&rsquo indicate its free-thinking radical moorings.

Rare photographs of Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and full-fledged sections on Beat literature and poetry underline its literary bias. Meanwhile, in the labyrinthine basement, a poster on a wooden door mentions &lsquoI&rsquom the Door&rsquo.

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