City Library – Ashis Nandy’s and Uma Nandy’s Library, Hazrat Nizamuddin East
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One day, some years ago, an academic from abroad entered their house. He was courteously told to sit. He replied, “But where?”
The books are on the sofa, and on the chairs. They claim the dining table, and also the double bed in the guest room.
This is sociologist Ashis Nandy’s home. He shares the second-floor apartment in Hazrat Nizamuddin East with wife, Uma. This evening the couple are in their bedroom. She is with the Bengali translation of Ajeet Caur’s memoir Khanabadosh; he is with Joanna Bourke’s An Intimate History of Killing. “I have a huge collection of books on all kinds of violence,” he remarks. “For 15 years I have been working off-and-on on the subject of genocides.”
The couple’s drawing room walls are covered with original works by artists Arpana Caur and Manu Parekh. Sitting by the dining table, she amusedly says that their books take up so much of the house that “we either have our meals on the chair or on our bed.”
During the darkest period of the coronavirus pandemic, the two moved to their daughter Aditi’s house elsewhere in Delhi. On returning to the apartment after a year, he discovered white ants on some of the books. “Those books had to be disposed.” Nevertheless the elderly couple takes rigorous care of the vast library that they have built in Delhi since 1965–with substantial assistance from housekeeper, Tulsi, and, driver, Rakesh. Even so, books occasionally go missing from their home, “perhaps flicked by our friends, mostly the younger ones… we don’t mind… the books we have are not easily otherwise accessible.”
He walks into a room dedicated exclusively to books. Thousands of volumes are stacked in the shelves, including the ones authored by him. A stately tanpura is lying against the shelves. It is hers. A singer of folk songs, ghazals and bhajans, she has trained under the legendary Siddheshwari Devi “but I only perform among friends, never on stage.”
Looking about the shelves, he says, “I’m now 84, and don’t want these books to end up in an institution where nobody will be interested in them. I’m thinking of gifting some of these to people who might find them useful.”
The couple returns to the drawing room. The entire balcony is hijacked by a luscious pakhan, its leaves speckled with the evening light. One might as well spend hours reading this tree instead.
Library of a lifetime