City Landmark – Rachna Book House, SDA Market
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The small stationery shop is noticeable because it also sells magazines, an increasingly endangered sight in these days of online reading. Then, you notice shelves decked with greeting cards, an increasingly endangered sight in these days of social media greetings. Then, you notice a row of DVDs… what’s that?!
And then all these sights are trumped by the sight of the owners, sitting by the counter. The elderly couple running the Rachna Book House look totally devoted to each other. Clad in a grey cardigan, with a bindi on her forehead as tiny as a dot, Kanta Oberoi turns towards her husband, Tilak Raj, declaring that the long-time establishment is a consequence of his earnestness and hard work. Mr Oberoi blushes at the compliment, though it’s difficult to confirm because of his face mask.
The store has been in South Delhi’s SDA Market since the 1980s, “but he laid its foundation 50 years ago,” the lady says, talking of her husband.
Mr Oberoi’s father, a partition refugee from Pakistan, died when Mr Oberoi was seven. Mr Oberoi thus started working as a young newspaper delivery boy to support himself and his mother. “I would pick the papers from Scindia House (in Connaught Place), and deliver them on bicycle in Defence Colony and Kotla.” Those early years were tough “especially because I would get the payment from subscribers only at the month’s end, and then so many people would delay paying up.” For instance, he would knock only to be told that the customer was still asleep or taking a long shower.
Regardless, he succeeded enough to open up a pavement stall in Green Park, and later on managed to take up this shop on rent. The couple named it after one of their four daughters.
Waving his hand towards the latest edition of Reader’s Digest, Mr Oberoi says, “It costs 100 rupees… at one time, I would sell it for 50 paisa.”
The couple concedes that the number of magazine buyers has gone down, “especially with the coronavirus, because the lockdown forced so many magazines to stop publishing their issues on print.” Very few folks are buying magazines, the lady notes, forcing them to sell mineral water bottles and face masks.
You ought to visit this shop to hang out with the friendly couple. They live in Sheikh Sarai and commute by auto rickshaw. The shop opens from midday to 8pm. “We are senior citizens, so we arrive late,” says the lady matter-of-factly, as her husband gazes upon her mask-covered face.
The shop around the corner