City Obituary – Mirza Yaseen Baig, Founder of Midland Bookstores
Passing of an icon.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Warm, affable, easy-going and with a crackling voice, it was easier to imagine him spending his waking hours beside his grandchildren, or beside chirpy flocks of pigeons. But his life was wedded to books.
Mirza Yaseen Baig, one of the iconic pioneers of Delhi’s book universe, who founded the Midland book stores, died on Thursday, November 24, 2pm, aged 94.
Until the pandemic started in 2020, Mirza Baig would come daily without fail to his bookstore outlet at Aurobindo Market, despite his advanced years and even though he was no longer able to hear properly, and had to reduce his interaction with customers. He would sit the whole day outside the bookshop, on a chair facing a shelf stacked with classics. The shop itself was and continues to handled by Afsar, one of his sons. Sometimes he would be spotted taking a quick nap.
Mirza Baig connection to Delhi might resonate with many of us Delhiwallas—so many of us have roots elsewhere. He was from Hyderabad, where he ran a book stall on Sultan Bazaar Road. In 1970, he folded his business and moved to Delhi. In the capital, he set up a similar stall, later named Books Selection Center, outside the Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place. Eight years later, he founded the New Book Land, the first of his Delhi bookstores, outside the Janpath flea market. It is managed by his son Salim. In 1985, he opened the first Midland in the brand new Aurobindo Market. The other two outlets in South Extension I and Gurugram came later.
Like almost every longtime bookshop in the city, the Midland stores have a cult following. The one in Aurobindo Market is a beloved of many well-known writers such as Namita Gokhale, who lives nearby in SDA Colony. Te Delhi Walla spotted historian Ramachandra Guha there a few weeks ago, browsing on the mezzanine floor.
One of Mirza Baig’s legacies might not be cherished by the city’s other booksellers as much as his patrons. Midland was among the first shops in Delhi to sell books at 20 percent discount, a scheme that led the spoiled customers to demand similar discounts elsewhere.
Talking to The Delhi Walla some years ago, Mirza Baig had said that he shunned the pleasures of a retired life because “coming to the shop is my habit. Here I watch people, see the world go to and fro about me, and I feel good.”
Mirza Baig was buried at Panj Peeran graveyard, near Lodhi Road. He is survived by wife, Sardar Begum, five daughters, four sons, and four bookstores.