Photo Essay – Will in the World
Chasing Delhi’s most popular historian.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Five evenings after the formal launch of his book Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, author William Dalrymple (Will, if you please) was spotted at Bahrisons Booksellers in Khan Market.
Sitting next to a shelf stacked with coffee table volumes, he had some 300 copies of Nine Lives piled neatly on his right. Rajni Bahri, the store’s owner, was handing him the hardbounds one by one. Mr Dalrymple was chatty with her. He discussed children, joked about learning Bengali, praised a new book on Hinduism.
After half an hour Mr Dalrymple was seen in front of the foreign magazine stall run by Mercury Audio Video. Next, his car was driving into Jor Bagh Market. He checked into The Book Shop.
A Jor Bagh resident waiting for him cried out a ‘Hey’ and clapped her hands. She was the only customer, besides Nini Singh and husband KD Singh, the store owners. A friend had tipped her off that Mr Dalrymple could be coming for an impromptu book signing. She was carrying a copy of Nine Lives she had bought there the week before.
After signing some 25 copies, including his earlier books like City of Djinns, The White Mughal, and The Last Mughal, Mr Dalrymple spent around ten minutes browsing at the store. When Mr Singh said that City of Djinns, the award-winning Delhi travelogue, still sold the most among his several books, the author laughed and made the indulgent face a parent does when hearing of the popularity of his favourite child. The Jor Bagh resident said, “City of Djinns was the reason why I moved from Hong Kong to Delhi.”
Once the author drove away, presumably, to his farmhouse near Mehrauli, Mr Singh shared an old anecdote with The Delhi Walla. Once Mr Dalrymple came to The Book Shop in Khan Market (that branch shut down in 2006) to sign 100 copies of his collection of essays, At the Court of the Fish-Eyed Goddess, now available as The Age of Kali. The author was with his artist wife, Olivia, who had illustrated the book. The event was well-publicised, the store was in the footfall-rich Khan Market, and this was William Dalrymple. A crowd was expected. Three hours passed; no one came. “Not a single person,” said Mr Singh with a twinkle in his eye. “William was very good about it. He laughed all the time saying that it was his most memorable signing session.” Within three days, all copies had sold out.
More than a decade later, Mr Dalrymple remains as marketable. After he left the Bahrisons, Mithilesh Singh, the store assistant, was heard predicting, “All 300 copies will be out in five days. We should have got Dalrymple to sign more.” At The Book Shop, KD Singh said, “There has not been a single day that we have not sold a William Dalrymple.”
At Bahrisons Booksellers, Khan Market
Gosh, I’m tired!
Thank you, Mr Dalrymple
The author and Rajni Bahri, the bookseller
Buss, ho gaya?
At The Book Shop, Jor Bagh
With the Jor Bagh resident
With Mr KD Singh
I can sign 100 more!
May I browse?
What’s the joke?
A Dalrymple reader, at a Green Park café