Mission Delhi – Bhag Bahri Malhotra, Khan Market
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Most booklovers know all about the legendary Bahrisons Booksellers in Khan Market. And old-timers would remember late founder, Balraj Bahri Malhotra, who started it in 1953.
Lesser known is his wife whose day job helped finance the operation in the first place.
Bhag Bahri Malhotra, now 87, first met her future husband in 1948 in Kingsway Camp, Delhi’s largest camp for Partition refugees where they were working as volunteers. Both,themselves, were refugees from present-day Pakistan.
“He was very handsome, very well-built,” says Ms Bahri, who was born in a landlord’s family in Dera Ismail Khan in 1932. “I had decided in my heart that I would marry him and nobody else.”
After their marriage in 1955, Ms Bahri’s job as a junior clerk in the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation not only landed her a government-allocated flat in Netaji Nagar but also covered the expenses for the household and the children’s education. This gave her husband the freedom to invest all the earnings from the bookshop back into it. Ms Bahri actually sloughed through three jobs during those early years – at the office, at home, and also at the bookstore. Every afternoon when her husband would leave for Connaught Place to check out the book selections in the grander shops there, she would walk from her office in nearby Jaisalmer House to run the shop until his return.
Ms Bahri’s husband called her ‘Madam-ji’, she called him ‘Balraj-ji’. He died in 2016. These days the matriarch only occasionally visits the bookshop, now run by her son and daughter-in-law. Dressed in one of her beautiful salwar suits, the frail lady is then seen sitting quietly with a cup of chai—leisurely flipping through the glossy magazines, watching the customers, and feeling at home in the world she helped create.
[This is the 215th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The Khan Market Matriarch