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…