Bookshop woman to a bookshop woman.
[Text and photos by Aanchal Malhotra]
Note about the author: Aanchal Malhotra is an artist and writer living in New Delhi. She can be found at her photoblog, The Hiatus Project, which chronicles her love affair with Delhi, its history and magic. She belongs to the family that runs the legendary Bahrisons Booksellers in Delhi’s Khan Market.
This evening I did something I almost never do – ventured into a bookshop other than Bahrisons, my family’s bookstore. Due to a piece I am working on, I had planned to spend part of the evening with The Bookshop’s Nini Singh.
She possesses the most beautiful aura. She is effortlessly graceful, and her strength and resilience reminds me of my own grandmother. Though there are sadly no photos of her in this piece, we spent close to an hour together this evening, after which my mind seemed devoid of its anxiety, replaced now by a simple serenity. I cannot explain it, but as we talked about books, her late husband (KD Singh), my late grandfather (Balraj Bahri), of loss, love, work ethic and the true essence of a bookseller, I felt an incomparable lightness that I wanted to hold onto forever.
As I walked in, I was greeted by the familiar sight of wall-to-wall shelves and a warmth that can only be found in a bookshop built with love. The coziness of the store was paralleled only with the distinctly worn smell of printed pages. From the counter, she smiled at me and gestured that we take a walk outside as we talk.
As we sat in the park across from the shop, I felt something that is difficult to explain. Though we spoke about her husband, the legendary bookseller KD Singh, who passed away two years ago, what struck me most was Nini Singh herself and what unfolded during our conversation was her beautiful and comforting aura, reminding me so much of my own grandmother. Nini ‘KD’ Singh was effortlessly graceful, respectful and, in my mother’s words, dignified in a way that was fast dwindling from modern society.
Sitting on the park bench with her, I felt a kind of calm that I didn’t even know was attainable. Perhaps it was because we were talking about her husband and my grandfather, and by extension about her and my grandmother, or maybe it was the mutual love for books or the beautiful spring weather; I cannot say. But what I can say with certainty is that even though this was the first time we had met, she brought within me a tranquility that stayed all evening.
After I bid her goodbye, I took a leisurely stroll to Khan Market through Lodhi Garden. Though it was highly uncharacteristic of me, I stopped to gaze at the clusters of Bougainvillaea and Jasmine flowers, and the fallen piles of the red spring Semal. All the while, I smiled to myself, reveling in the slow moving serenity of my Saturday evening.
The Bookshop as seen through Bahrison’s eyes