Capital Regret – A Booklover’s Library on the Road
Late film critic Amita Malik’s books sold to a ragpicker.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Have you ever wondered what is the fate of the personal library of a bibliophile who has lived and died alone? It finds its way into second-hand bookstores.
One Sunday afternoon while browsing in Daryaganj’s Sunday book bazaar, I came across a row of old hardbounds, all well kept. There were works by authors ranging from Agatha Christie to Charles Dickens to Katherine Mansfield, including many books on cinema. The bookseller, Mr Muhammad Javed, told me that these volumes had come from the house of Ms Amita Malik.
Ms Malik’s name had lately appeared in newspapers. A film critic and radio journalist remembered for bringing world cinema to the notice of Indians, she had died in February, 2009, in South Delhi’s Kailash Hospital, aged 87. Ms Malik was suffering from leukemia. According to Mr Javed, the venerable film critic had no children and her relatives and domestic staff, having no seemingly better option at hand, did away with her collection of around 2,000 books by selling them to a rag-picker. That man sold them to Mr Javed for Rs 15,000. A steal, really, as the collection had rare Marcel Prousts.
The Assam-born Ms Malik had been living in Delhi since 1946. With years she had become an institution and until she was admitted to hospital, I’m told, she would regularly go to India International Center in the evenings. Though I never spotted her in Khan Market’s bookstores, I’m certain that she must have been a frequent visitor there.
On her death, Delhi-based Outlook magazine said:
“Amita Malik’s sad and almost-solitary death was preceded by a few years in a state of homelessness, under roofs not her own and gradually forgotten by those who once feared her, toasted her, loved her, even hated her.”
Now, after her death, her books also have gone homeless. Mr Javed says that he has more of Ms Malik’s books at his godown in Jamia Nagar. He plans to bring them in bunches to his Sunday stall in Daryaganj. As I was leaving, I could not resist buying James Joyce’s Dubliners. A green-coloured hardbound, it was a bargain at Rs 20. On the opening page was this inscription:
With love. For Amita. 1.5.’45.
These books belong to Ms Malik
I wonder why she didn’t donate her collection to a library before dying. But then it’s a good thing that her books will now be bought by people who otherwise might not be able to purchase them at regular prices.
Examples of how the love of books continues into old age are common. For the lover of books the prospect of parting with them adds a new pang to death; for they are the bibliophile’s dear friends. Eugene Field avows that if he lost his library & were unable to assemble another he would lay himself down to die, for he could not live without companionships which had grown as dear to him as life itself.
Yet many are loath to part from their treasures even at the end, although they know that unless collections are dispersed, collections could not be made. There is some folly here for we are all in the same boat; it is the nature of all things to part, and for some to benefit thereby. That dispersal is a piteous sight few will deny. And it is hard, I confess, to see so many admirable libraries thus injured.
Our collections are like time: they will pass. “Better men than I have parted with their books,” says Edward Newton, “better men, mind you, but none with a greater love than I.” Book-love, I say again, lasts throughout life, it never flags or fails, but, like Beauty itself, is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore it may be said of every good bookman: he loves his books to the end, as God is said to love man. To love them to the end is to love them forever, beyond time and change.
What a lovely story!
Dear Mr Soofi
This refers to your article on Ms Malik’s books and also our telecom today.
1) I am Mrs Malik’s nephew and only blood relative in Delhi.
2) The books referred in your article / blogpost were expressly
selected by the family for free / very cheap distribution among the
book lovers of Delhi such as at Daryaganj Sunday market. It is
therefore factually incorrect to say that her relatives sold it to a
rag-picker when actually they were given to specialised old book
sellers in Jamia area to distribute on a non-profit basis.
3) The bulk of Ms Malik’s books are still retained by her family.
Books which did not meet both the a) content and b) physical condition
requirements were not selected for retention. All of Mrs Malik’s
relatives and many of her friends / media colleagues got opportunities
to select books for themselves.
4) The family views it positively if some of her books (which are in
slighly poor condition – such as moth eaten, infested with silver
fish, cracked spines, brittle pages) find good homes with book lovers
who pay for their books – and hence would value them better than if
they got it for free.
This brought back memories. This brought pain. This brought envy. Camaraderie. Joy. Happiness.
My father was in AIR (you’re probably too young to even know it stands for All India Radio :)). Every week we’d wait to read Ms. Malik’s review of the week gone by in the media world. She was incisive, hyper critical, acerbic and oft-times – downright nasty :D. Given all that it was my dad’s greatest joy and pride that she wrote a favourable review of a play he had written and produced. At some point AIR faded away and she did too – from the limelight.
All the rest i feel as a fellow bibliophile. I treasure my books and my children (7 and 1.5)adore books too. So their care for 1 generation is partially assured…i hope. Else, i’d be glad if they got sold cheap on the pavements to people who love books but cannot afford them anymore.
Hi Mr. Soofi,
Its not particularly related to the Daryaganj story, but is more of a personalised account.
I got to know of Mrs. Amita Malik, for the first time when I read and article by her, on the death of Marlon Brando, in HT.
I remember keeping the article in my file, but have failed to locate it. It was an excellent account of her meeting Brando, when he visited India on a rare visit to discuss making Banku Babur Bandhu with Satyajit Ray(which was never made. On that visit of his, Mrs. Malik perhaps, had an opportunity as a host on AIR to interview Mr. Brando. She wrote in the article how he had wooed her with his “Voodoo” voice, and later added that those tapes were lost from the AIR office.But, the point is that, the short article was evocative and very melancholic. Perhaps one of the best obituaries I had read.
I really want that article. Can you please help me out, in your capacity as an employee at HT
Everything must pass. I did not know Ms. Malik, and I seldom listened to AIR but the article touched me in ways I never expected. I know something about her now, thanks to Mr. Soofi for writing such a beautiful obituary.
I also like the comment posted by Mr. Gora Firanghi.
Comments are closed.