City Library – 3L Library, Defence Colony
An old-world lending library.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One doesn’t always want to stumble upon the past. After all, there is so much contemporary stuff to handle. But Delhi is littered with souvenirs from yesterday. And this miniature time capsule in south Delhi’s Defence Colony market is too delightful to be ignored.
To a certain generation that came of age in the 1960s and 70s, this corner place might bring many emotions. During those times, many neighbourhoods in the city would have at least one lending library from where to borrow a novel at a very affordable rate.
Today, such libraries have become history. But 3L Library (full name: Love, Laugh and Learn) is trudging along. Stepping into it is like entering a bygone decade. You rarely see people reading the kind of novels that are stacked in the shelves here. One wall is devoted to Mills and Boon romance novels. Enid Blyton paperbacks – so popular with pre-millennial era kids – are occupying another section of prominence. There are Archie comics, too, along with rows of Danielle Steel’s sentimental novels. Also spotted: Louis L’Amour, the writer of western novels.
And this is just half the story.
The library stores hundreds of old issues of foreign glossies such as (British) Vogue, Esquire, Elle, Architecture Digest, GQ and Hello! You must flip through the stacks of Hello! – every cover either has Princess Diana, or her sons, or their wives, or Princess Diana’s little grandchildren.
The library was founded by Rajinder Kumar Sekhri in 1965. In his 80s now, he prefers to remain at his home in Vikram Vihar due to pandemic-related concerns, according to the gracious Surman Singh Rawat, who has been managing this landmark for 35 years.
He says most of the collection belongs to the owner. “There was a time when we had 5,000 members, but now we are left with only 200-300.” The pandemic has further hurt the business, he says, shaking his head.
In some ways, this place isn’t exceptional. The Defence Colony market has a fair share of long-time landmarks, such as Defence Store, Malik Store, Aka Saka restaurant, Moets restaurant, Quick Electronics, Mahindra Electricals, Commercial Dry Cleaners, Broadway Dry Cleaners and Bansal Stores.
Even so, 3L stands out most elegantly in this esteemed crowd. Because, well, it is the only place in the entire market devoted to books.
A DefCol secret