City Landmark – Akhil Bharti, Galli Charkewalan
A lesser known bookstore.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The door is narrow, the place within is very small, but what an illustrious crowd— Jaiprakash Bharti, Devaram Bhamu, Hardarshan Sehgal, Jaishankar Prasad, and many many other writers. This little alcove in Old Delhi’s Galli Charkewalan street, is crammed with thousands of books in Hindi, including translated works by non-Hindi authors—a Tagore paperback, wrapped in plastic, is lying on the desk.
The bookstore, called Akhil Bharti, is located inside an arched doorway leading to what appears to be the remnants of a haveli. The shop is secretively situated; its doorway scooped into a deliciously derelict wall that goes upto a private courtyard. This afternoon the courtyard is empty, except for a kali billi, bold enough to sit regally in front of an unexpected visitor. The amiable young man at the bookstore shares his name with that of the shop. “It was named after me,” Akhil says shyly. The shop was founded by his father, Anil Kumar Sharma, who died last year during the second wave of coronavirus. Glancing around the packed metal shelves, the 30-year-old inheritor clarifies that “we are essentially publishers.” These books are produced in a printing press located close by, in Lal Kuan. “We are also a bookstore, and one comes to this place also to browse and buy.”
The shop opens at 8 in the morning but there is no closing time. “If the door is locked, you just have to give out a call (‘Akhil Bhayya, Akhil Bhayya’) and I’ll come down,” he says, a smile spreading upon his face. Gesturing towards the ceiling, he informs that his home is upstairs, where he lives with his family.
The shop consists of two rooms separated by a thin wall. One long shelf is devoted to the great Premchand. Along with his classic works like Gaban, Karmbhoomi, and Sevasadan, there is a huge selection of his short fiction, including the hauntingly titled Poos ki Raat.
Although this is the Walled City’s chaotic heart, the bookstore is dappled in utmost quietness. All you hear is the sound of the ceiling fan. One’s own thoughts feel intrusive in this rapt silence. On stepping out into the street, you start to doubt if the place was for real.
A place for Premchand