Mission Delhi – Vijay Kumar Sharma, Oxford Bookstore
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Living on one’s own is not always easy. Bookshop staffer Vijay Kumar Sharma knows the feeling. “Sometimes I don’t feel like going back to my room at night, and wish I could sleep over in the bookshop itself,” he says during a lull at the Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place. Though as long as it’s not Diwali, Dusshera or some such festive season, with everyone joyously milling around with relatives and friends, “I don’t feel that lonely… after all, my room is filled with books.”
In his late 30s, Mr Sharma lives by himself in a rented flat in west Delhi’s Janakpuri and reaches home by 11 pm or even later. “The first thing I do on entering is to open the windows, switch on the fan and freshen up the room.”
The soft-spoken gentleman owns a massive collection of books — they are everywhere, he says, including under his bed. He shows a picture of the place on his cell phone. Stacks of poetry volumes and novels are perched precariously on the two bedside chairs he borrowed from a neighbour, like two leaning towers of Pisa. A Dostoevsky admirer, Mr Sharma is partial towards Russian novels “because you can connect to their protagonists… they are phatehal (ragtag) struggling souls, somewhat like the heroes of old Hindi movies.”
These days, however, he is immersed in Maithili Sharan Gupt’s works.
Like most bibliophiles with day jobs he reads “during my long metro commutes, and in the bed before falling asleep.” The bookshop man’s intense kinship with reading has a history. Some years ago he was diagnosed with a serious ailment and “I would suffer from depression and have dark thoughts… but then I met all those hard-luck characters in the novels with their own struggles and their stories helped me survive.”
Now fully recovered, Mr Sharma has already made his retirement plans years in advance: “I will go back to settle at my parents’ home in Himachal, and start a library for the village folks.”
He shall stack up the dream library with his personal books, but might decide not to part from a hardbound he is particularly possessive about. “I never allow anyone to touch my copy of Kahlil Gibran’s (The) Prophet… it’s a special anniversary edition and the cover is of…” Mr Sharma mutters along in the true spirit of a book-lover.
[This is the 182nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Secret life of the bookstore man