City Library – The New York Times’s Ellen Barry’s Books, Jor Bagh
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Never befriend a foreign correspondent. They always leave.
Take Ellen Barry, the South Asia bureau chief of The New York Times. She arrived in our city four years ago and is now preparing to leave for London. The Delhi Walla reaches her Jor Bagh home one afternoon just on time, as she is beginning to discard the books she doesn’t plan to bring along to her new posting.
Standing in front of a wall-length bookshelf in the drawing room, Ms Barry explains that her library lacks some of her most beloved books–she often ends up gifting friends the books she loves.
Still, I snoop around her collection and spot a fair number of shall-I-flick-it titles such as Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds. I also spot a Joan Didion–Ms Barry used to read her a lot in college. But no Ayn Rand? Ms Barry used to adore her at an early point in her life. Today she seems embarrassed while mentioning that infatuation.
The shelf has many books on Russia, including Lonely Planet Russia and Lonely Planet USSR. Ms Barry was earlier posted in Moscow.
Not long after she arrived in Delhi, in 2013, Ms Barry caught dengue and was confined to home. She exploited the unexpected holiday by devouring Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. That novel made a strong impression on her. “Perhaps because I was so feverish,” she says. “It was an important book at a time when I was learning about the country.”
As a foreign correspondent, Ms Barry must have flipped through many India books—ah, here’s BK Nehru’s delectable memoirs Nice Guys Finish Second. She seems particularly excited about discovering Indian writers writing in languages other than English. A few months ago I saw her at Nini KD Singh’s The Book Shop, ecstatic about a Perumal Murugan novel that had just been translated from Tamil to English (the writer’s profile duly followed in The Times).
The Book Shop is a mere 20 feet from Ms Barry’s home. She buys at least three books from this bookstore every week, many of them for her daughters Alice and June.
This isn’t the first time Ms Barry ends up being intimate with an independent bookstore. As a teen, she worked part-time ($3.75 per hour) in Cheshire Cat, a children’s bookstore in Washington DC that shut down in 1999. She has chosen her new home in London, too, in a bookshop-friendly neighbourhood.
Ms Barry will quit the city by August. Her replacement, Jeffrey Gettleman, is currently based in Kenya. One can only wonder which Indian writer this next bureau chief will pick up, after he too is obliged to go to bed with the Delhi dengue.