City Obituary – The Book Shop, Jor Bagh Market
Passing of a place.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Miles Davis’s moody music fills the room. An elegant woman is sitting, surrounded by books. The rest is silence and sakoon.
This was an evening scene from some years ago at The Book Shop. The Jor Bagh landmark is shutting down tomorrow. Rachna Singh, the founders’ eldest daughter, broke the news yesterday on social media, saying: “The Book Shop has had its season, now it’s time to move on.” She said “we will dissolve the partnership that owns it.” The other partner, Sonal Narain, is moving the business to adjacent Lodhi Colony Market, with the same stock and staff. The Bookshop Inc will open on November 1.
The Book Shop’s original edition was a couple’s longtime love story—see photo. It was established in 1970 by Kanwarjit Singh Dhingra, aka KD. He died some years ago at the age of 73, after which his wife, Nini, became the face of the shop (she is the aforementioned elegant woman).
The shop continued to serve all this time in sleepy Jor Bagh Market, but cemented its iconic reputation during the 24 years its branch enjoyed in the more popular Khan Market. It was in that address that Salman Rushdie signed copies of his newly published Midnight’s Children. That was also the outlet where the great Gabriel García Márquez browsed during his only visit to India.
The Khan Market branch shut down in 2006 after a rent dispute. The one in Jor Bagh carried on. Its closure marks the end of an era in Delhi.
After a brief stint at a family-owned factory, KD co-founded a delicatessen in Jor Bagh Market in 1963. Steak House was the first Delhi store to stock imported cheese and meat cuts. This was about the time that KD was dating an army officer’s daughter. He would pick her up after classes from Lady Shri Ram College and they would drive to Connaught Place restaurants such as Volga or Gaylord, both of which closed long ago.
KD and Nini married in 1967. They opened The Book Shop in 1970. Nini remembers her husband single-handedly arranging all the books. When he was done, the two Jazz music lovers waltzed between shelves that smelled of wood polish.
Following the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, Nini drastically reduced her presence at the shop, leaving its daily administering to business partner, the aforementioned Sonal Narain.
In the pre-pandemic days though, every evening at quarter past seven, staffer Sohan Singh— himself a bookstore legend—would switch off the air conditioner, Nini would turn off the credit card machine, pick up her handbag, took one last look around and turn off the lamps one by one.
At the forthcoming Bookshop Inc in Lodhi Colony, the genial Sohan Singh will continue to be present. And Jor Bagh will still have a bookstore, The Kunzum Lounge, since 2022.