[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The world is dense with prose; it is not easy to find poetry in our tweeting lives.
Fortunately, Delhi continues to have a few places where you can shop for verses. Some of the brick-and-mortar book stores are poetically-inclined enough to dedicate at least a little corner to poems. Such stores are few, rare and precious, distinguished by the fact that their owners are willing to go the extra mile to build their collection. Every visit there offers a surprise.
The best poetry corner in Delhi is to be found at the Fact & Fiction book store in south Delhi’s Basant Lok Market. A tall, dark-wood rack has nine shelves. On a recent afternoon, the rack had four books by Allen Ginsberg, two by Czesław Miłosz, four collections on Mirza Ghalib, and one by Arun Kolatkar. There was also The Oxford India Anthology Of Twelve Modern Indian Poets; it’s difficult to find this anthology, edited by poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, in book stores.
The catch of the day was sandwiched between the thick Complete Poems of Cavafy and the thin Imagining Alexandria: Poems In Memory Of CP Cavafy. This must-buy was a slim hardbound. The Poet’s Guide To Life: The Wisdom Of Rilke seemed adequately utilitarian to be a sensitive person’s self-help manual. The book store, run by Ajit Vikram Singh, sells more books on philosophy than poetry, says Mr Singh’s soft-spoken assistant Ravi Vyshumpayan. But the books in their poetry section, he says, “keep moving. At least one is sold every two-three days. Our fastest-moving poets are Neruda, (Jorge Luis) Borges and (W.H.) Auden.”
Further north, at The Book Shop in Jor Bagh, the poetry section faces a rack crammed with Penguin Classics. Sonal Narain, who co-runs the legendary store in this quiet market, seems pleased with the business that her poets generate each month. “Seamus Heaney is very popular,” she says, adding, “Cavafy does well, though I do particularly well with Wendy Cope… there is of course a constant movement with the poetry collections of Vikram Seth and (Rabindranath) Tagore, and also of Rumi and Arvind (Krishna) Mehrotra. I’ve also been happy with the reception given to (Everyman’s Library) Pocket Poets that we introduced last summer.”
Not far away is posh Khan Market. The only book store there that has a passionate space for poetry books is the Full Circle in the Middle Lane. Dozens of books are stacked on a shelf in the back row. “Recently, we got about two dozen Faber & Faber books,” says book assistant Reji Varghese Joseph, referring to the UK poetry imprint known for its minimalistic cover designs. “But that very evening a gentleman came and took away all the stock. We have not been able to replenish it.”
Here’s hoping that the tribe of poetic bulk-buyers multiplies.
Reading poetry in Fact & Fiction
1. (Ajit Vikram Singh, left, and Ravi Vyshumpayan)