City Landmark – The Book Mark, South Extension I
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Let’s talk about Delhi’s extinct bookshops.
The Bookworm in Connaught Place had a spiral staircase, that went up to the Capital’s best collection of books on cinema. The Fact & Fiction in Basant Lok Market was as marked for its eclectic selection as for its owner, who snubbed browsers if they entered carrying ice-cream cones. The Crossword at South Extension II had friendly bookshop assistants, including the son of a future Uttarakhand chief minister.
The Timeless Art Book Studio, in South Extension I, had a double bed (you could lie on it with shoes off). Kuldip Book Shop, run by elderly Kuldip Chander, was stacked with thousands of second-hand MB romances. Nearby, The Book Mark was as huge as any South Extension wedding saree showroom.
Sorry, a small correction here.
The Book Mark still survives – except that it is no longer on the ground floor, but in the basement of its original site, where it rarely creates any stir.
This evening there are no customers except for The Delhi Walla. Some shelves are empty. But the racks that are crammed with books are endowed with literary richness, though no new releases are in sight. One shelf is dedicated to English poetry. Another has a nice collection of 19th and early 20th century novels. There’s an impressive collection of books in Hindi. Even so, the bookstore has a mood that suggests that time lies suspended here. For instance, some books lying on the racks are the ones that made a huge noise when they got published two decades or so ago, but which were quickly forgotten, and are no longer to be found anywhere.
When it opened in 1998, The Book Mark gleamed with light, space and a great amount of buzz. The windows looked out to South Ex’s impossibly smoggy traffic, and you felt relieved to be inside this air conditioned bubble with novels in English as well as in Hindi, a rarity for premium bookstores in the city at that time. Book readings were hosted regularly. Framed portraits of writers such as William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, and Raj Kamal Jha hang on the walls — the faces of these writers looked down upon the browsers like old friends. Fortunately, the old photographs that made the bookstore so unique are still here.
“Earlier, these pictures were just gimmicks, but now they are our heritage,” the store’s owner once told this reporter.
On coming out, one is back into the bustle of South Extension. The portraits of writers in the basement feel as remote in time as the bookstore’s light-filled ground floor days.
A bookmark still not lost