City Landmark – Sachdeva Book Shelf, Patel Nagar
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
So simple, the name of this bookstore. Here in Patel Nagar, by the stairs of the area’s gigantic metro station.
Sachdeva Book Shelf have been occupying this tiny spot for 36 years. It has outlived “Vivek Picture Hall”, a cinema theatre that had to be erased following the construction of the aforementioned station. Time’s progression nevertheless finds an uninterrupted flow in Shelf’s shelves that continue to be crammed with books. This freezing afternoon, there are paperbacks new and used, titles contemporary as well as classics. Browsers are obliged to browse while standing on the pave. (Not enough space to go in.)
The bookstore’s peculiar analog-era charm comes from its owner. Rajinder Sachdeva is gracious; his gestures are suffused with extreme courtesy; his speaking style is serene and unhurried. Conversing with him gives a feel of longtime bond.
Gesturing towards the direction where the cinema stood, he talks about the old days when mobile phone didn’t exist. “I would then sell a great number of Hindi novels… Premchand was always in demand, so was Surender Mohan Pathak, who used to live in Patel Nagar before shifting to Noida.”
In the best traditions of an independently run bookstore, the collection is eclectic. There’s Tolstoy and Satyajit Ray, JK Rowling and Aravind Adiga. There are titles one sees everywhere (A Gentleman in Moscow) and titles one does not often see (Ugly Love). A dramatically diverse range is displayed on the pavement rack—Hindus in Hindu Rashtra, Why I Am an Atheist, Annihilation of Caste, The Communist Manifesto, Bhagavad Gita, George Orwell Omnibus, etc.
“These books sell the most,” the bookseller explains, adding that Patel Nagar is a “hub” of Civil Services aspirants, and many of the students tend to be his customers. Indeed, the area is dotted with so-called libraries in which there are no bookshelves but desktop niches where members sit for hours in shanti and solitude, reading stacks of newspapers, presumably building up their ‘general knowledge’ for the competitive exams.
Now a young woman arrives, her curious eyes darting across the shelves.
The store is open all days except Monday, from noon to 9pm, after which the bookseller returns home to Janakpuri.