A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The warm daylight is streaming in through the window. It is utterly quiet. This is the book room of Vinod Mehta, the founder-editor of Outlook magazine who died in March, 2015.
The Delhi Walla is in Mr Mehta’s first-floor apartment in Hazrat Nizamuddin East. His wife, Sumita, is showing me his library.
“This is the place where Vinod would sit and read,” she says. “He wrote his two books on this desk.”
Mr Mehta’s collection has more than a thousand volumes. Different genres lie together in a jumble of diversity. Lucy Peck’s Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building stands next to an old hardbound edition of The Faulkner Reader. Guy de Maupassant sits beside Octavio Paz. One shelf, however, suggests that Mr Mehta was not completely averse to orderliness. It has many biographies, including of Indira Gandhi (by Katherine Frank), Mohandas K Gandhi (by Ramchandra Guha) and VS Naipaul (by Patrick French).
A framed portrait on the wall shows Mr Mehta shaking hands with George W. Bush and his wife Laura during the American president’s state trip to Delhi. Another picture shows him standing beside Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi.
Sitting down on the sofa, Mrs Mehta says, “Vinod often bought books from Khan Market. He liked many writers. Graham Greene was one of them.” Looking around the room, she adds, “This was not only Vinod’s library. It was also my prayer room. It still is.” Mrs Mehta goes on to talk of the days spent in this room when her husband would be immersed in reading and she in Buddhist chants. “Sometimes Vinod would join me,” she says.
A white coffee mug on Mr Mehta’s desk shows his caricature, drawn by Behram Contractor, the late Bombay cartoonist who was popularly known as Busybee.
Many of us draw comfort from the belief that the dead never die completely and that a part of that person continues to live on in our memories. Still, Mrs Mehta would never again see her husband using this library. What is to happen to his collection?
“The books will stay here,” she says. “Right now they are lying around just the way Vinod left them. I will soon arrange them by categories. Biographies will go there, and fiction there,” she says, pointing to different shelves.
As time passes, Mrs Mehta may make her own additions to the collection. Perhaps one day her husband’s library will tell us more about her than him. But then that is the way it should be. After all, the world belongs to the living.
Legacy in books
2. (Mr Mehta’s drawing room)