Mission Delhi - Sohan Singh, The Book Shop

Mission Delhi – Sohan Singh, The Book Shop

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

He stood alongside the Indian literary fiction shelf. One cold evening The Delhi Walla meets Sohan Singh at The Book Shop, a small establishment in Jor Bagh that is frequented by the capital’s choicest citizens, including novelists and journalists, bureaucrats and politicians.

As the store’s doorman, Mr Singh, along with owners KD Singh and his wife Nini, gives The Book Shop its distinctive character of quietude — the 39-year-old man’s calm demeanor is capable of soothing the fickle temperament of the most excitable book browser.

Working in the bookstore since 1999, Mr Singh tells me that he barely finds time to read novels, though he is a habitual reader of the Hindi-language edition of India Today. He also tries to regularly follow the writings of columnist Tavleen Singh. “Her insights are always interesting,” Mr Singh says. “Her son Aatish Taseer is a novelist and frequently visits our bookshop… but he is published in English and I read in Hindi.”

Mr Singh lives with two friends in a rented apartment in Kotla, which is a short walk from Jor Bagh, and he walks to work everyday. “I take the route that goes through Sewa Nagar crossing and Lodhi Colony. It takes me not more than half an hour.”

Mr Singh’s longest journey was the one that he undertook after finishing his school. Like most of his childhood companions, he left Suhari, his village in the Garhwal Himalayas, and took the bus to Delhi. Having started in the city as a gas pump attendant, he initially took up residence in the house of a relative in Okhla.

“I had no idea then that I was destined for books,” he says.

Most patrons of The Book Shop too have no idea that each time they purchase a novel here, they are not only supporting a bookstore, but also the lives of five village women — Mr Singh’s mother Hukma Devi, wife Godanbari, and daughters Lakshmi, Shobha and Sushma. The youngest girl will start going to school next year.

“I will be visiting my daughters in the summer,” says Mr Singh.

A few minutes later a gigantic silver-grey car stops outside the bookstore. A woman with a huge black wig slowly emerges from the backseat – she is the fat Maharani of an extinct principality. Mr Singh opens the door for the sovereign as gently as he had opened for me.

[This is the 81st portrait of Mission Delhi project]

Standing by books