A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One evening The Delhi Walla knocks on the door of Nishat Fatima. In her thirties, Ms Fatima lives in a second-floor apartment in Greater-Kailash I, a south Delhi neighbourhood. Her library has about a dozen books. “This is what happens when you move houses,” she says. “You can’t carry all your books with you.”
Seven months ago, Ms Fatima shifted base from her hometown Hyderabad. She was appointed as the editor of fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar India. “I came with a suitcase – only a suitcase. It had only one book: (Umberto Eco’s) The Name of the Rose. The novel reminded me of (Orhan Pamuk’s) My Name is Red because of its emphasis on religion, art and books, especially books. The ending was a let-down, though.”
Ms Fatima’s balcony overlooks a park. Her home is a delicious mess of sandals and books. Chef Ritu Dalmia’s Diva Green: A Vegetarian Cookbook is positioned next to a lunch packet. Timeless Icon, a coffee-table hardbound on Princess Diana, is on the bed – sharing space with an iPad and an orange Tod’s handbag. The dining table is taken over by Harper’s Bazaar (of course) and the British Vogue.
A partially-filled shelf in the bedroom comprises Ms Fatima’s collection of books. She takes out E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. “I’m reading her for the first time. Her sentences are exacting.”
A part of the real-estate is encroached by the following titles: How to Worry Less About Money, How to Thrive in the Digital Age, How to Think More About Sex and How to Stay Sane. “I got them for their cover designs.”
The other books include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending and Syeda Imam’s The Untold Charminar: Writings on Hyderabad.
“Most books remain in my family library,” Ms Fatima says, referring to her home in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. “It has about a thousand books ranging from Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and Erle Stanley Gardner. You don’t know Gardner? He wrote court-room dramas. My grandfather was a big fan of him. He was a lawyer who later served as the chief justice of Jammu & Kashmir.” Returning to Enid Blyton, she says, “Some of those books belonged to my aunt who gave it to us a long time ago.”
Turning the pages of Barnes’s Ending, Ms Fatima says, “I miss not having Georgette Heyer… left her in Hyderabad. I liked her humor. Although she is labeled a romance author, I think if she were a man, she would have belonged to the same section as Wodehouse.”
The most important book in Ms Fatima’s library is a novel that is not stacked in the shelf. About half-a-dozen copies of Seriously, Sitara? are lying wrapped in plastic. It is Ms Fatima’s first book as an author. “It’s been a fortnight since my book arrived in the world.” The cover shows a woman’s head – a great sea of curly brown hair. The description on the back of the novel says:
Sitara Gopalasundaram – single, high-minded, just-over thirty, arts editor of Homme magazine, with a mop of uncontrollable hair and no time for Bollywood-types – is seriously upset. Being commanded to unearth the story behind Bollywood superstud Nasser Khan’s much-talked-about reclusive status following the break-up of his long-standing engagement to a cinematic bimbette is nothing short of a nightmare for someone who can’t quite tell her Khans apart. Things get worse as what she had hoped would be a one-time, never-again, meeting turns out to be the first of a series of strange encounters, as fate keeps throwing her back into the arms of Bollywood’s reigning pin-up boy. Blown away by the high-octane world of showbiz, Sitara still thinks she can get her life back to its normal humdrum routine. Seriously?
“I took break between the jobs to write this novel. I never showed the manuscript to my family. They read it only recently. My sister found it witty. My brother… this morning he was on page 83.”
Settling down on the drawing room sofa, Ms Fatima shows me her diary. “Here I wrote some of the corrections in the draft,” she says, opening a page. It is scribbled with blue ink.
A few minutes later, throwing a swift glance at the cardboard box filled with the copies of her novel, Ms Fatima says, “You never stop buying books. While my old collection lies safe in Hyderabad, I will build another in Delhi.”
Living with books