A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One afternoon The Delhi Walla invited himself to Anjani Kumar’s library. The books are stocked in his office, which is a cramped plywood cabin situated outside a bungalow in Jor Bagh.
A security guard in his forties, Mr Kumar owns half-a-dozen books. With rarely used reading glasses tucked into his shirt pocket, he says, “These books are as precious to me as my job.”
Mr Kumar felt passionately for books even during his childhood days when he was growing up in his village, Dargahpur, in Bihar. “My grandfather, late Nawal Kishore Sharma who was the school headmaster, used to read me (Tulsidas’s) Ramcharit Manas at night.”
The collection in the guard’s cabin includes an English-to-Hindi dictionary, two books by spiritual guru Osho Rajneesh and a large hardbound of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta – it’s the Hindi translation of the Sanskrit text. “I like reading sacred books… you will not see Ramcharait Manas at the moment. The guard who works here in the night shift has taken it to his home.”
The cabin being too tiny to have a dedicated shelf, Mr Kumar has arranged his books in unexpected places – Osho’s Kranti Sutra stands precariously on a wooden ledge, below a knife hanging from a hook.
“My roommate gifted Osho to me. I feel very far from this writer. He is not easy to understand. His thoughts are very complex.”
And who gave him Bedtime Stories for Boys? This is the only English-language book in Mr Kumar’s library.
“That one! My friend Kundan Kumar got it for me. I haven’t yet read all the stories. I need the English-Hindi dictionary to understand the words.”
Mr Kumar is a fast reader of Hindi books though. He says he has read the Geeta 5-7 times.
“This book details the samvad (dialogue) between Arjun and Krishna. Arjun puts up questions to Krishna who then responds to him.”
Holding the Geeta in his hands, Mr Kumar stares long at the cover, before adding, “What is soul? What is body? What is the relationship between the two? You will find those answers here.”
Unlike most book-lovers, Mr Kumar doesn’t pile up his books at home – he lives alone in south Delhi’s Badarpur. “I return to my room by 9.30 pm daily and then I have to cook the dinner and wash the dishes. By then it gets too late to read. So I keep my books in this cabin. The (work) duty is demanding but I try to read when I can.”
Living with books