Death of a bookseller.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Anil Arora, the owner of The Bookworm in Delhi’s Connaught Place, died on 9 August 2016. He was 74. The reason of his death is not known.
Mr Arora’s deliciously cramped establishment was one of the three great bookstores of the Colonial-era district. The other two were New Book Depot and Galgotia & Sons. They all shut down due to lack of business. The Bookworm was the first to close in 2008.
Mr Arora, whose parents had migrated from Lahore to Delhi as partition refugees, had originally inherited a liquor shop in D block, Connaught Place. He replaced it with a bookstore in 1977 that quickly went on to become an important cultural landmark in the capital. In her book Delhi Metropolitan: The Making of an Unlikely City, author Ranjana Dasgupta described a perfect “going for a loaf” experience in the Connaught Place of the 1970s as having a “cold coffee at Depauls in Indian Oil Bhavan, shopping for Kolhapuri chappals on Janpath and browsing among the serried rows of glossy Penguin Modern Masters at The Bookworm.”
The bookstore was famous among the serious-minded for its collection of cinema studies, but the more frivolous celebrated it for its atmopsheric spiral staircase that went up to the chaotic mezzanine floor, and also for its cheery shop assistant Shalini Rose (see photo 3)—she happily gave away books on credit to regular customers and never embarrassed them later by payment reminders.
The shop’s house music was partial towards Louis Armstrong. Mr Arora shared his passion for Jazz with KD Singh, the founder of The Book Shop, and Kuldip Shenker, the founder of the The Steakhouse (see a rare picture of the trio taken during the 1960s in photo 1 below).
The Delhi Walla personally remembers Mr Arora as a bookseller who was spotted sitting quietly behind the shop counter attentively gazing upon his computer screen. He often wore flowery shirts and left his charming assistants to deal with new customers. His shop was the only refuge during my early days in this city. I worked the entire day as a waiter in an airport hotel and every evening boarded the bus for Connaught Place to forget myself at The Bookworm.
“Anil Arora was a chartered accountant,” says food writer Marryam H Reshii. “That was his main job. The Bookworm was something like a vanity project for him. He was also a serious photographer. In the late 1970s when I didn’t have enough moolah to buy books, he would invite me to sit down and read inside his shop! Imagine. His wife, Kiran, was from my school.”
“My son Indrajit, then not even a teenager, loved the place where he was treated affectionately as an adult,” says author Pushpesh Pant. “Now 45, he recalls how Anil Uncle encouraged him to read the Bard in original and not in dumbed down editions for kids. I got my first copy of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair at The Bookworm.”
Mr Arora was last seen in public during a condolence meeting to mark the passing away of his fellow bookseller KD Singh in 2014.
The Bookworm’s opening time was 11 am. During the last years of the shop, Mr Arora always arrived for work in his Mitsubishi Lancer.
Anil Arora’s world
1. (from left: KD Singh, Anil Arora, Kuldip Shenker; photo courtesy: The Book Shop)