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Remembrances of “The Bookshop”

There are things in life that you must do, goals you must chase down and aspirations whose fulfillment always seems just round the corner. But these days, as the world has slowed down around you, you found how to linger in a moment and allowed yourself to luxuriate, perhaps after the job was done or the conversation finished. Hold on to this feeling– that elevates your life from a mad dash as you read these heartfelt words Arifa and Zainab have dedicated to one of their treasured city haunts – The Bookshop in Jor Bagh. Read, and luxuriate. Let it become one of the things you must appreciate when we walk out of these hard times.

In a cozy corner of Delhi, The Bookshop waits with patience for ardent readers to tread in softly and feast their eyes on its impeccable collection of books. It is one of the few independently-run bookstores in Delhi. On the bulletin outside The Bookshop, there are some yellowed newspaper articles pinned, talking about the journey of this small space plucked out of a reader’s heaven. Upon entering one can spot a quote by Rilke written above the counter: “Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” An aisle of books separates The Bookshop in two small alleys. There are two book walls, a double-sided aisle and two rotating aisles to browse through. Every month, The Bookshop hosts a new theme and curates books accordingly on the wall behind the counter. They started with Japanese Literature followed by Arabic Literature, and so on, with the latest being the theme of creativity, showcasing a selection of books on art, music, and writing. On the counter the newcomers stand stacked one upon the other. Subtle and beautiful music can be heard playing in the background, usually Classical or Jazz. The resident cat Torty can be seen lazily lounging on a Rajasthani mooda, while the dog Misty, lying outstretched at another corner. The mirrored ceilings add a whimsical touch to the place and to your photo gallery, a few memorable pictures. One can feel a sense of lightness and serenity here, away from the hustle bustle of the city. The tranquil market of Jorbagh, where the Bookshop is nestled, compliments its atmosphere perfectly.

Though the space is economical, yet the collection is refined and it seems as if every book has been picked out and arranged with a lot of discussion and meditation. Virginia Woolf’s Common Reader to Manto’s Mottled Dawn, the Bookshop manages to accommodate all of our favorites. There’s a section exclusively of poetry – Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ginsberg, Dickinson, Whitman, Larkin, Mary Oliver, and E.E Cummings all talk among themselves. A heavy Rimbaud can been spotted on the shelf with Ghalib and Hafiz resting on it. It is a sheer delight to be among knowledgeable booksellers, to be assisted by people who share your love of books. Whether it be the ever graceful Nini KD Singh, her lovely partner Sonal, or the charming and helpful assistant Mahika, one can always expect to have a warm conversation about books with them along with a recommendation (or two) thrown in.

Among non-fiction, you will find books of Hannah Arendt, Roland Barthes, Foucault, all the ones you’ve always wanted to read. It has books on travel, a striking collection of graphic novels, a pretty wide aisle of detective fiction, Indian literature, new arrivals, and beautiful editions hunted down for customers to moon over. On top of it, the Bookshop recommends and suggests books through its Instagram handle @_thebookshopjb , and keeps the readers updated on new arrivals and discounts. Workshops, meetups, and author interviews are held within The Bookshop regularly. It is frequently visited by authors such as Arundhati Roy, William Dalrymple, and Aatish Taseer. Their Khan Market branch (closed in 2006 due to a rental hike) hosted Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1983, on a trip to Delhi with his friend Fidel Castro.

In December, The Bookshop gets decked with decorations, fairy lights, and a Christmas tree made of books. The atmosphere turns enchanting one can sense the love and affection with which it was established in 1970 by the Late K.D. Singh and his wife, Nini. We never had the chance to meet KD (as he was fondly known as), but from what we’ve heard he was a man known for his extraordinary knowledge of literature, love for Jazz music, and above all, his gentleness. A gentleness which remains with The Bookshop even today. We always find it tempting to order a book in a few clicks, to satisfy our after midnight craving of a book – the internet is very handy. But we leave the essence of buying books behind. In the age of e-books and e-commerce, the future of independent bookstores is dwindling. Independent bookstores of Delhi have to share most of their time not among readers fishing their favorites from aisle to aisle, but among the empty silence of books. The many book recommendations that the bookshop owners used to give to the readers lie neglected in their hearts. Their welcoming warm smiles melt the worries away.

As The Bookshop turns 50 this year, it continues to charm us with the intimacy and comfort it offers. In these dark and difficult days, we are sure many of you are seeking solace in reading. For now, we all have to survive on the lot of books we are left with. When the days of luxury will arrive again, and it will be considered routine again to walk on the roads of Delhi, we hope with all the reverence we have in our hearts for books, that the road from Jorbagh Metro Station to The Bookshop will be first one you take. We ardently hope that this write-up adds a few more visitors to bookstores. We can almost imagine you coming out of the Bookshop, your faces flushed with happiness and an armful of books hugging to yourself. To end, we would like to quote these heartfelt lines taken from the blog of The Bookshop:

Bookshops like ours are not competing with online sellers. We are here to sell books but we are also here for you to take a pause, a pause from the madness of life. When you walk through our doors, along with smell of books and the strains of music, you also get a whiff of nostalgia. There is the serendipity of finding a book which you weren’t looking for and a conversation you didn’t plan on. And yes books, always books.

Arifa Banu and Zainab Waziri are students pursuing English Honors from Jamia Millia Islamia.

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Written by Arifa Banu

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