City Landmark – The Book Mark, South Extension I
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Let’s talk about Delhi’s extinct bookshops.
The Bookworm in Connaught Place had an atmospheric spiral staircase that went up to a stunning collection of books on cinema.
The Fact & Fiction in Basant Lok Market was as notorious for its eclectic selection as for its owner who would snub shoppers if they flipped the pages of a book a tad roughly.
The Crossword at South Extension II, despite being a chain store, had very friendly bookshop assistants–one of them was the son of a future Uttarakhand chief minister.
South Extension I, across the road from South extension I, was also home to memorable bookstores. The Timeless Art Book Studio had a double bed–brownie and coffee was given for free. A nearby pavement store, run by a silent elderly man, was stacked with thousands of secondhand Mills & Boon paperbacks. The appropriately named The Book Mark was as huge as any South Extension wedding saree showroom. Its walls were decked with gorgeous black-and-white portraits of dead and living writers.
Sorry, a small correction here.
The other afternoon we realized that The Book Mark is still surviving–just that it is no longer on the ground floor but has moved into the basement of its original site.
The store continues to be spacious but there was no other customer except for The Delhi Walla. Many bookshelves were empty. One shelf was stacked with dictionaries. A publicity poster of The Lost Symbol, a 2009 Dan Brown novel, was stuck on a wall.
The shop’s centerpiece was a hardbound edition of the holy epic Ramcharit Manas. It lay inside a glass case.
Ankur Gupta, one of the brothers who co-manage the store, talked of an “absolute challenge” in operating such a trade in the age of “pirated books” and “e-books.”
When it opened in 1998, The Book Mark gleamed with light and energy. The windows looked out to South Ex’s impossibly smoggy traffic and you felt relieved to be inside this air conditioned bubble with novels in English as well as in Hindi, a rarity for premium bookstores in the city at that time. Book readings were hosted regularly (a clapboard shows photos from those events). Framed portraits of writers such as William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, and Raj Kamal Jha hang on the walls—the faces of these writers looked down upon the browsers like old friends.
Fortunately, the old photographs that made the bookstore so unique are still here. Vikram Seth’s pensive portrait, for instance, lay atop the Hindi poetry section.
“Earlier these pictures were just gimmicks but now they are our heritage,” said Mr Gupta.
After exiting The Book Mark, I walked down the same street, and after a few blocks away, turned into another basement. This was Midland bookstore. It is older than The Book Mark. Customers were milling around shelves overflowing with books. This place hasn’t gone the heritage way, yet.
A bookmark still not lost