Mission Delhi – Raju Pandey, Amrit Book Company
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In some ways most good bookshops seem to be alike—stocking the same best-sellers and whatnot.
But of course their staffers do make a difference.
Celebrity manager Mithilesh Singh at Bahrisons Booksellers in Khan Market has been listed in the acknowledgment pages of several books. While Jolly Sabherwal (“Jolly ma’am”) at Full Circle—also at Khan Market—was known for her most exquisite saris until retiring awhile back.
Then there’s Raju Pandey, 42, an unusual sort of salesman at Amrit Book Company in Connaught Place.
He never proposes titles to customers but instead lingers in the background. When a browser does have a query, Mr Pandey appears miraculously in front of her, like a djinn. As though simply waiting for the right moment to make himself available.
“I’m not much of a reader though,” he confesses boldly. His true calling stems from a vast knowledge of the contemporary book scene.
Hailing from Chapra in Bihar, Mr Pandey has been with the family-run store since 1992—his very first and only job.
“He knows the location of each and every book and every author in my shop,” says store owner Prem Sharma, whose father founded Amrit Book Company way back in 1936. The country’s first law minister Dr BR Ambedkar used to hang out a lot in the bookstore; it’s a pity he never got to experience Mr Pandey’s cordiality.
This very afternoon, in a span of five minutes, Mr Pandey not only helped a customer find her way to stacks of Freud; but also climbed a ladder to remove two volumes of Indian Materia Medica for a curious patron.
He does it all so unobtrusively, like a mere apparition floating about.
Now there’s a lull in the store and he is sitting in a chair, with arms placed on folded legs, looking as peaceful as a banyan tree.
Drop by the heritage bookstore to meet this man, one of those rare people who make this difficult city a little less intolerable.
[This is the 260th portrait of Mission Delhi project]