City Library – Shalini Bahadur’s Books, Gurgaon
Life with books.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She woke up very early in her Gurgaon condo the morning after prime minister’s first speech on janta curfew, the one that preempted the much-longer coronavirus-ridden lockdown. By 6.15 am, she had hit the Western Peripheral Expressway, not stopping her silver Honda Amaze anywhere, heading straight to Chandigarh. With her two daughters, sets of six clothes for each, plastic gloves, a bank cheque book, and Kristin Hannah’s novel True Colors.
Shalini Bahadur was quitting the Millennium City in the Greater Delhi Region to spend the forthcoming lockdown at her parents’ sprawling house in Chandigarh’s Sector 9. “I wanted to look after mom and dad, and also to make sure the girls had a nice garden to play” during this stay-at-home isolation.
Though she didn’t spell it out, somewhere in her subconscious she was also determined to keep her recently reactivated reading life steady.
“I’m fond of books,” she says.
Ms Bahadur is chatting on WhatsApp video from her parents’s bungalow in Chandigarh. Living in Gurgaon since 2014, she gave up her professional work in retail a few months after her first daughter was born. Her husband owns a business—he has temporarily moved to Delhi, helping his parents cope with the pandemic days.
Ms Bahadur is being modest when she talks of being a book lover. In fact, she is a ferocious reader. Last year she finished 46 books. This year she has already read 23 books—15 at her home in Gurgaon, and 8 here in Chandigarh.
Fond of fiction on history (especially WWII) and family sagas, she had always been a reading type but parental responsibilities with small children denied her the sweet sessions of sustained reading. In this period, “I would mostly manage to read short stories for they could be finished in one brief sitting.”
Last year was a landmark. Ms Bahadur revived an old practice—deciding to read novels. “I had more time… my younger daughter entered the first grade and started to spend more time in the school.”
So the lady would exploit those regained hours with her book-of-the-day, and a cup of coffee or a bowl of chips on the side. She would also hop down to the amply-stocked library in her beautifully sleek apartment complex. And without fail, each time she finished a novel, she would note down the title and the writer’s name on her journal. “May be it’s a validation of my reading… also, one tends to forget the books after a while and all you remember is reading some very good books and some very bad,” she laughs.
Responding to a query, she clarifies that she doesn’t cheat on her list and if she quits a book midway—which is rare—she doesn’t honor it with a journal entry.
Additionally, being a photographer, Ms Bahadur also treats her reading material as an aesthetic subject. Very often she would click her books in company with “daily stuff” themes close to her artsy sensibilities—such as sunshine or coffee cup— and promptly share those captures on her Instagram handle. Her account is however private, accessible only to a few select friends.
“I only read to enjoy,” she says. Indeed, she is so non-showy about her reading prowess that even her usually non-bookish family didn’t realise her hyperactive reading routine until they spotted her jotting down on her journal.
In a world crammed with too many distractions, Ms Bahadur has willingly given up many other pleasures to be faithful to her reading discipline. She always turn off the WiFi on her phone while with her books.
These days she reads in the afternoon and at night. “I finish a book in about four or five days.”
Now her elder daughter appears, and kindly agrees to hold the phone as Ms Bahadur sits on a sofa with the novel she’s currently reading—The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg.
Ms Bahadur plans to return home in Gurgaon by September, when the girls’ school is expected to reopen. Then she will again be reunited with her husband and her book collection acquired over the years spent in places as far apart as Providence in the US, Dubai in West Asia and Bangalore in Karnataka.
“My next read,” she declares, “will be Heidi Perk’s Come Back for Me.”
Listing the mind