City Obituary – New Book Depot, 1925-2012
The legendary bookstore in Connaught Place becomes history.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
New Book Depot, the legendary bookshop in the colonial-era Connaught Place known for its vast collection of classics as well as for its eccentric owner, died on January 6, 2012, aged 87.
“I shut the bookshop today,” Rakesh Chandra, the owner, told The Delhi Walla on phone. “There were ongoing court cases with the landlord. I have surrendered the space back to him. It was all of a sudden.”
Every morning Mr Chandra himself dusted the bookshelves. A little temperamental, he occasionally got into tiffs with customers who showed “disrespect” to his books by turning the pages too violently.
On December 1, 1946, Mr Chandra’s lawyer father, Kuldip, bought the bookstore from a French couple, who had started it in 1925. Mr Chandra joined his father in 1976. Mr Chandra’s college-going son Uddhav started sitting in the shop only a few months ago.
In the rapidly-changing Connaught Place where most landmark shops were shutting down one by one, giving way to chain stores, New Book Depot retained its old-world charm of low-hanging fans, high ceiling, rosewood shelves and rickety wooden stairs. “Against the pressure to make the layout what is called sleeker and shinier, I have preserved the old look with zeal,” Mr Chandra once told me.
New Book Depot had Nietzsche, Rabelais, John Ruskin, Li Po, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Jean-Paul Sartre. For balance, there were all the Ian Flemings.
“We have only four real bookshops in Delhi,” Mr Chandra told me two years ago. “Bahrisons Booksellers in Khan Market, The Book Shop in Jor Bagh, Fact & Fiction in Basant Lok and mine.”
On its last day, the bookshop’s shelves were empty. Most books were lying packed on the floor.
“The shop stayed for 65 years with the family,” Mr Chandra told me on phone.
A notice at the door said, “We are leaving. We don’t know for where but we will come back with better books and a bigger space.”
Once upon a time…
Oh no! I bought a copy of ‘The Mind of God’ from the bookshop a few days before Christmas. I had a feeling something sinister was afoot- the shop-assistants were in a state of considerable agitation as the owner talked animatedly over the phone. Awwwwww! I loved their collection of classics ( one of the best).
Please let us know when and where they re-open
On 6th January, I dropped by at Connaught Place on way back home by the Metro. I had this habit of looking up the latest arrivals at New Book Depot every time I happened to be in CP. Was shell-shocked to see the shop closed and a small notice proclaiming that this British-era bookshop, that had an iconic status, has downed its shutters forever. It was all very sudden. Just last week I took a friend to this place. This sprawling bookshop had a very large and good collection of classics. They even imported Penguin titles directly (other than those made available throygh Penguin India). I had bought a Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Translated by John Minford. USA. 2003. 384 pages. RRP $16/ Rs 800) in October 2010 for just Rs 250. I had not seen it anywhere else. They never offered any discount though. It was, however, an ideal browsing place for me every time I passed by. I knew this bookshop since college days in the 70s, though I could afford to buy my first book here only in the mid-eighties. Felt very sad to see yet another stand-alone bookshop close down. The BookWorm near Plaza Theatre was the first casualty, wound up in 2008. Good bye, dear bookshop, I will miss you sorely.
It’s a sign of how badly the CommonLoot Games has affected CP. Not just bookshops, even thriving restaurants like Picadelhi in Plaza and TGIF in F-block shut down. Three years after the so-called ‘renovation’ began, no end is in sight. Expect more closures. We’re lucky no one has died so far. Safety is so abysmal, it’s a miracle.
Have you noticed the pool of piss near M block? Seriously, CP as we knew it is going down the drain,bro. It is filthier than ever and resembles a post-apocalyptic landscape with all those hideous abysses the authorities have had dug up for the sake of ‘renovation’. Sadly, parts of it now look like Chawri Bazaar ( dog poo, littered garbage, paan stains and puddles full of muck). Honestly, the quality of the ‘renovation’ is execrably poor and the paint has already begun to chip off, fade and crack in places.
BTW, I get to visit CP every weekday( classes). I get to watch it being smothered. Not a nice feeling.
NO! That’s TERRIBLE!I can’t believe it has closed down.
Internet! That’s the way to buy books, and cheaply too! The age of independent bookstores is passing. Why, in the US, none exist except in small towns such as New Hope, PA, as museum curiosities.
While there shall be lamentations, let us not forget that oil-filled lamplights gave way to incandescent lights and now to LED lights.
Alas, good things always go away. Nice review. Thanks for sharing!
the store had a good collection..hope the reopen it.
It’s not an understanding that readily comes to you – but in today’s world of prime property, there just isn’t any space left for benevolence. Connaught Place is as prime as it comes and they’re probably just going to open up their 12th Adidas store there!
I really am going to miss the New Book Depot. I wasn’t their most regular customer. I was definitely not their most profitable customer. But, every-time I walked into that store, I swear it was like walking into a story. It was quaint, it had character and I met some of the most beguiling people there. That bookstore stood for everything a cold Kindle or an impersonal Flipkart-purchase doesn’t. As for the owner – their right… he was never at the counter when I bought a book – always nearby, animatedly talking to customers, magically coming up with these solutions to reader-woes. The guy was like Mr. Pinkwhistle, his helper – Sooty and that shop…. well a story in-itself.
Goodluck trying to find that on Amazon.com!!
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