City Obituary – Raju Pandey, Amrit Book Company
Life of a bookseller.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He was made of air, and hovered about like a djinn. At least, those were the vibes he exuded. For he materialised by your side just as you felt that you could make use of somebody’s help.
Raju Pandey was one of Delhi’s most gentle-mannered bookstore staffers. He recently died, aged 46. The cause was an asthma attack during the early morning hours. For more than 25 years, he had been a shop assistant in Amrit Book Company, the Connaught Place landmark that used to be a regular book-buying haunt for Dr BR Ambedkar.
The book man’s presence was very sturdy and yet very light, as if he were wandering through the world making a distinguishable difference but leaving no footprint. Even his passing was a quiet affair, and not many outside his immediate circle immediately came to know of it—he died a month back on March 26. The very antithesis of intrusion, he never violated a shopper’s physical and emotional space. But he had an excellent sense of timing. Just when a browser felt the need of an assistance—a recommendation from new releases, or perhaps to take out a paperback from an upper shelf—he would silently appear and get the job done. After which he would silently fade away before you could mutter a thank you.
“I’m not much of a reader,” he once confessed to this reporter. What he was too modest to say was his intensive familiarity with the contemporary book scene. Hailing from Chapra in Bihar, he had been with the family-run store since 1992—this was his very first and only job in Delhi. He would know the location of every author in the shop, says the elderly Prem Sharma, whose father founded the shop in 1936.
One afternoon, some months ago, within a span of five minutes, he 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 would do it all without making a fuss. One wondered about his life outside his job—how lucky for his family to have such a calming effortless presence at home.
During the occasional periods of lull in the store, he would be seen sitting in a chair, with arms folded across his chest, his entire demeanour encased in a halo of welcoming kindness. One of those rare people whose mere existence made this city a little less rude, he is survived by wife, Renu, and sons Priyanshu and Divyanshu, one of whom is currently preparing for his class 12th board exams.