Capital Regret – A Booklover’s Library on the Road
Late film critic Amita Malik’s books sold to a ragpicker.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Have you ever wondered what is the fate of the personal library of a bibliophile who has lived and died alone? It finds its way into second-hand bookstores.
One Sunday afternoon while browsing in Daryaganj’s Sunday book bazaar, I came across a row of old hardbounds, all well kept. There were works by authors ranging from Agatha Christie to Charles Dickens to Katherine Mansfield, including many books on cinema. The bookseller, Mr Muhammad Javed, told me that these volumes had come from the house of Ms Amita Malik.
Ms Malik’s name had lately appeared in newspapers. A film critic and radio journalist remembered for bringing world cinema to the notice of Indians, she had died in February, 2009, in South Delhi’s Kailash Hospital, aged 87. Ms Malik was suffering from leukemia. According to Mr Javed, the venerable film critic had no children and her relatives and domestic staff, having no seemingly better option at hand, did away with her collection of around 2,000 books by selling them to a rag-picker. That man sold them to Mr Javed for Rs 15,000. A steal, really, as the collection had rare Marcel Prousts.
The Assam-born Ms Malik had been living in Delhi since 1946. With years she had become an institution and until she was admitted to hospital, I’m told, she would regularly go to India International Center in the evenings. Though I never spotted her in Khan Market’s bookstores, I’m certain that she must have been a frequent visitor there.
On her death, Delhi-based Outlook magazine said:
“Amita Malik’s sad and almost-solitary death was preceded by a few years in a state of homelessness, under roofs not her own and gradually forgotten by those who once feared her, toasted her, loved her, even hated her.”
Now, after her death, her books also have gone homeless. Mr Javed says that he has more of Ms Malik’s books at his godown in Jamia Nagar. He plans to bring them in bunches to his Sunday stall in Daryaganj. As I was leaving, I could not resist buying James Joyce’s Dubliners. A green-coloured hardbound, it was a bargain at Rs 20. On the opening page was this inscription:
With love. For Amita. 1.5.’45.
These books belong to Ms Malik