City Landmark – Piccadilly Book Stall, Shankar Market
The life of a bookshop.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It was just another morning in March when bookshop owner Narendra Kumar Chowdhary woke up at his home in Vasant Kunj. Minutes later he died of a cardiac arrest. He was 65.
It was the first time since its founding in 1950 that Piccadilly Book Stall in Central Delhi’s Shankar Market remained closed for a long, long time. The store’s longtime assistant, Chandrashekhar, too went away to his home in Nepal.
Two months later in May, Mr Chowdhary’s wife Raina finally turned her thoughts towards the bookshop. Chandrashekhar too had returned by then. Together they re-launched the store, which has the capital’s best collection of spirituality, running the gamut from commentaries on Vedas to Kabbalah lectures.
“In winters, we get lot of aghori babas looking for books on tantra,” says Ms Chowdhary, showing handwritten notepad entries and photos of the book-buying sadhus. This morning she is with her daughter who sometimes takes out time from her job “to help Mummy.”
The landmark also has the solid features of a general bookstore—and, as well, precious first editions dating as far back as the 50s. The late Mr Chowdhary literally landscaped the bookstore with books: filling up the ground floor, the rickety staircase and that narrow gallery running around the crowded loft. He knew Piccadilly so well—Ms Chowdhary says—that “if a customer asked for such and such a book, he’d perhaps be guided upstairs, look to the third shelf, and remove the hardback with a green cover.”
But, of course, working alongside the husband all these years, she knows her way around, too. An eclectic title like The Pocket Guide to Sea Shore is easily retrieved within seconds, followed by the first edition of Dervla Murphy’s classic The Waiting Land. Indeed, Piccadilly has a treasure trove of valuable catches from yesteryears still lying unsold and covered in dust. “But it won’t remain that way,” declares Ms Chowdhary in a hopeful voice.
Next time in Piccadilly