There are book stores, and then there are iconic book stores. I have visited several book places in my city, but there are very few that I would label as iconic. The Bookshop in Jor Bagh, Delhi, can very easily fall into this category. A legacy built by the late KD Singh, described by the New York Times as the ‘cosiest bookshop in the country.’
Even when online stores are making it impossible for physical stores to survive, some are being run by people with a lot of passion, grit, and determination. They are managing to find a way around, and this particular store happens to be one of those.
So what is it or how is it that these stores are able to survive?
I visited this particular store a couple of weeks ago to experience its magic once again, and believe me; I wasn’t disappointed. I walked into this small, quaint place which has an old-world charm about it. As I entered, I was struck by the warm, informal setting.
I was greeted by the sight of books all around, books that had been carefully shelved and put together. It isn’t a big place where you can find all possible titles; not every run-of-the-mill book will find its way to this store. It is books that match up to their high literary standards that one is likely to find here. It is about the quality and not the quantity.
If you look at the store’s history, this has always been their philosophy and ethos. They believe in stocking rare titles. They will not stock every possible bestseller, but if you are looking for a rare, relatively unknown title, you have every chance of finding it with them. And what is praiseworthy is that these standards have not been diluted even in the face of uncertain situations and challenges.
Then there is the ambience of the place: the quiet, the solitude which every booklover craves. You can explore, you can read in peace with nobody breathing down your neck. And then, while you are in the middle of your reading, you happen to look up. What do you see? A treat for the eyes!! The bare walls have been turned into something catchy and interesting.
Some walls have these posters of some well-known titles. Some others have miniature posters of books cut and pasted to add to the charm, not to forget that little corner with cute postcards.
The Bookshop is a bookstore that I think can be an inspiration for other bookstores. A bookshop should be able to lead you to books that you will love. A booklover sometimes wants to read but doesn’t know what to read, and this sort of a predicament is taken care of here. This store will enable you to discover books that you will fall in love with and make a part of your collection.
As a result, even if you don’t have a specific book in mind when you walk in, you will have several in your bag by the time you walk out. It always happens to me!! People out there make an effort to understand you, your personality, your tastes and then recommend just the right book for you. How cool is that?? Can an online purchase even hope to match that?
The world inside the Bookshop is only for those who are ardent book lovers. You talk books, you look at books, you browse through them, and then you take a deep breath to smell that particular smell of books and get transported into a world of your own.
This is what happened to me that day. My conversation with Mahika helped me discover some titles that I didn’t know about, but I knew I had to pick them up when I saw them. And am I glad I picked them up?
I have noticed that most of the time, in these large chains, even if the staff is knowledgeable, they can give you some facts about the book, how well it is doing, and that’s about it. But if you wish to discuss a book, go into depth; they will not be able to do that. If you want to do any of those things, you need a place where people know the book, understand it and are willing to spend time with you. That can happen only in a small place where not too many people are there. It is these places that can connect you to the right book.
The Bookshop was set up way back in 1970 by KD Singh, a bibliophile and his wife, Nini. The man was passionate about books, as is evident from the character of the store. It is all about the love for books than anything else. It is as though the store aims to satiate a book lover’s hunger for books rather than extract money out of him.
The store specialises in literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, crime, children’s literature and graphic novels.
Writers like William Dalrymple, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie have visited the place to sign copies of their books and interact with booklovers.
Though KD Singh is no longer there, his legacy is being carried forward by his wife Nini Singh, her partner, Sonal Narain and the friendly staff starting from Sohan Singh at the door.
There is another interesting feature about the store. Just behind the main desk where you pay for the books, a section boasts of books recommended by the store. So if you were to glance there, you could find some literary gems as I did.
I spent the major part of my day there and came back with a rich haul of books, not to mention the unique bookmarks which have cats on them, showing their love for cats.
The Bookshop is a bookstore that tells you that online book buying can never take away the pleasure of browsing in a bookstore, gazing at books, interacting with other booklovers and discussing a book before buying it.
It is a store trying to retain its identity in a world full of online stores and big stores that combine books with other things to pull in customers.
The fact that during these times, every book delivery goes with a handwritten note speaks volumes about how much this store cares for its patrons.