City Landmark – Vandana Book Shop, Aurobindo Market
Labour of love.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a bookshop run by a family. It’s also a bookshop run by a family. Its staffers are very polite, very attentive. Its staffers are also very polite, very attentive. It’s in Aurobindo Market. It’s also in Aurobindo Market. It is very famous. It is not as famous.
Such is the tale of these two landmarks—Midland and Vandana. The former has its praise sung over the years. The latter is rarely mentioned.
Midland is a must-visit. So is Vandana. Both are tucked next to each other. Both offer discount on their books. Both also have a magazine stall each, stocking the same journals. Midland has two doors, Vandana has only one. But it’s a beautifully old-fashioned sliding glass door through which one enters inside its cosy interiors. This afternoon a grey-haired lady, the owner, is standing behind the counter. “Until recently my husband would also be here,” she says, her voice suddenly overcome with intense feelings. Moti Nankani passed away early this year to Covid. Rekha Nankani turns to gaze towards her husband’s portrait adorned with a white pearl necklace. The frame shares the shelf space with paperbacks by Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Aravind Adiga and Suketu Mehta. Ms Nankani, 65, admits of struggling through the predictable challenges that independent bookstores like hers are facing in these days of the pandemic. During the lockdown the shop’s business had come to a standstill. “But my staff is very supportive,” she says, introducing shop assistants Nand Kishore, Anil Mishra and Pooran Prakash. These gents have been serving here for more than 10 years, and their friendly nature helps sustain the shop’s bond with its long-time patrons.
Ms Nankani graciously admits her neighbour’s widespread popularity. “They have their business. We have ours. They have their faithful customers. We have ours.” Here she pauses, chuckles a bit, saying, “Many young people frequent their bookshop, while we have customers who have been coming to our bookshop for many years.”
Commuting daily from her home in Sarvapriya Vihar, Ms Nankani is joined by her son in the evening. The shop was named after her daughter, who lives in the United Kingdom. “My husband set up the bookstore in 1984, the year this market opened… but I started working in it only in 1997, after the children grew up.” She briefly glances at her husband’s portrait. Now a customer shows up, and the place gets busy.
The other bookstore