City Library – Dayanita Singh’s Books, Vasant Vihar
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are bookshelves everywhere, even outside, just beside the door.
One afternoon, The Delhi Walla steps inside Dayanita Singh’s studio. The internationally acclaimed author-photographer’s pad in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar is a maze of book-filled rooms. Even the kitchen shelves are stacked with the printed word. A few racks are filled with nothing but petite black Moleskine diaries.
Ms Singh, however, has a relationship with only two dozen books. That beloved stack stands discreetly on a dark-wood shelf.
Walking towards this special bundle, she picks up Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and opens it randomly. The slim paperback, we discover, is already torn into two parts.
Why can’t she get a new copy? Ms Singh sighs deeply, saying, “I have had this copy since my first year at NID (National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad)… when I was 18.”
Now, Ms Singh shows us her old copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of Her Own and gently places the aged edition on the table.
Eventually she spreads out all her most-loved books across the table. Flipping through the pages of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz slowly, serenely, with a faint smile playing on her lips, she says, “Austerlitz is my favorite photo book. If Sebald were alive, I would hand over my fileroom archive to him. No one can combine image and text like Sebald.”
A minute or two later, Ms Singh gets distracted by a pamphlet-sized book — He Has the Heartless Eyes of One Loved Above All Else by Alexander Kluge.
Meanwhile, Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter is waiting for its turn to be loved and caressed.
I also spot Indian poets in the bundle: AK Ramanujan and Vikram Seth. The lovely New York Review of Books edition of Kabir’s poetry, translated by poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, is worth flicking but the book’s owner unfortunately, has a very alert eye. Finally, Ms Singh again picks up her torn Rilke, handling the book with immense care.
Living with many, married to a few