Monday, December 08, 2008

City Landmark - Fact & Fiction, Basant Lok

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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City Landmark – Fact & Fiction, Basant Lok

Inside Delhi’s wildly eclectic bookstore.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

This place has attitude. While other bookshops sex up their appeal by setting in-house cafés, customers here can’t even carry a softy. And no mobile phones, please. In Fact & Fiction, rules are rules. Thank you very much.

Delhi’s most eclectic bookstore faces the Capital’s most popular hangout — Priya cinema in Basant Lok Market. On entering, try not to bother Mr Ajit Vikram Singh, the owner. He is perhaps browsing on his Compaq laptop or reading The New York Review of Books. Else, he is listening to John Mayall on his iPod.

Walk straight, reach the end and turn left. Tonnes of travel books — conventional (Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands), crazy (Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle), and weird (Kate Marsden’s On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers).

If you are into contemporary fiction, turn back towards the glass door. Rotate the moving shelf and pick the latest Alice Munro or Joyce Carol Oates. You like whodunnits? That too is here. No, you’re into sci-fis? Just turn right.

The crème de la crème is on the lower right side of Mr Singh’s desk. Here you’ll spot the who's who of food writing, from MFK Fisher to James Beard to Michael Pollan.

But it’s not books alone that matters. The store would be nothing without Mr Singh. As a child, he would regularly go to Jor Bagh’s The Book Shop, another charming joint in the city. There he would look around in awe.

After growing up and having his fill of the high life — studying at Mayo College, graduating from St Stephen's and running a sugar factory in western Uttar Pradesh, Mr Singh opened Fact & Fiction in 1983. Since then his shop has built a solid reputation while he himself is considered, by a few, as... how to put it, eccentric.

One guy told me how on asking for a title, Mr Singh “not only frowned but also said that I should make sure the name is correct.” Another blames Mr Singh’s “lack of warm heartedness to him being a real prince of Mayo.” However, I’m told that by the third visit, Mr Singh does start smiling. That is if he likes you.

“Most of my differences happen with customers due to their ill treatment of books,” Mr Singh tells me. “A bookshop requires a certain amount of sanctity and sometimes I have people rushing in with dripping ice cream cones.”

That he is not a chatty type adds to the 'reputation'. It ruffles the ego of those who expect fawning-grovelling treatment just because they have been so kind as to enter his shop. But here Mr Singh is king. And he is kind. If a book catches your fancy and you are not carrying money, he reserves it for you.

Now, back to books. Step back and turn right. Poetry section. Basho. Allen Ginsberg. Anna Akhmatova. A translation of... modern German poetry! Who in Delhi would buy it? “The collection must have a good mix,” Mr Singh says. “Only then readers could discover new writing.”

Over the years, I, too, discovered many authors in this 300 sqft space. Once I discovered a secret attic when Mr Singh walked to the wall behind me and... disappeared! There was actually a false door and inside — I managed a peek — were lots of books.

That was a glimpse worth living for but this place, why oh why, offers no discounts. Naturally, after making your payment, you may not wish to return. Mr Singh needn’t worry, though. If you love books, you’ll be back soon.

Where 39 Basant Lok (Opposite Priya Cinema) Ph26146843

Shhh, they're browsing

City Landmark – Fact & Fiction, Basant Lok


Anonymous said...

back to yer old self mayank????? browsing some old raggedy book shop in search of enlightenment.
Barely ten days have passed after the Mumbai fiasco and you seem to act as if nothing really happened. Being a Delhiwalla is not just about loving yer city but loving yer country as well, n u my friend you are far from it! Instead of browsing the books in an air conditioned bookshop why dont u go to the the govt. and see if they are doing anything about it, why don't you go to old Delhi in some muslim neighborhood and try to get some itel for our Intelligence Beauru.
Not all muslims are terrorists but most of the terrorists are muslim. Try n give this philosophy a thought, after all Delhi is hugely attributed to its muslim past!!!

Saad Akhtar said...

Anonymous: Try consulting a proctologist sometime... that knot in your ass may not be bothering you much, but it's starting to bother everyone else around you.

Finny Forever said...

Saad - that was perfect.

Aloorat said...

Anonymous, Ignorance Is Bliss - this is not a hate site!

Anonymous said...

Saad: What wrong did I said? Most of the terrorists - as in people who kill innocent civilians in the name of God - are infact muslims! Prove me wrong otherwise.

Finny Forever: Don't open yer mouth when u got nothin to say of yer own!

Aloorat: What world are you living in brother? Look around you, everywhere people are being killed in the name of Allah.

God knows I don't hate Islam, I just hate how radical it has become today... This guy Mayank did a month long obituary on Bhutto as if she was his own PM, and barely a week passes and he comes up with an article about some antique bookstore. What triggered my anger was his indifference to the people who lost their lives. Don't their lives mean enough to him?
After the train attacks in Mumbai, Bollywood came up with a movie, A Wednesday. This time again it happened on a Wednesday.

How many Wednesdays does it take before we start doing something about it????

Dude, get a hold of reality!

Saad Akhtar said...

anonymous: Seriously, about that knot... I'm sure it's treatable.

This link might help:

Anonymous said...

Saad Akhtar: Now who's being ignorant????

आवारा - যাযাবর - آطارا - Vagabond said...

Dear Anonymous: It appears that you are as rattled as everyone else but please try to keep your balance. MAS is not responsible for internal security of this country. At least not more than you and me.
Mr. S.R. Patil was and Mr. P. Chidambaram is now so kindly go and hound them
We all have freedom and duty to do what we do. We must do what we should do in proper way and thoroughly. A sweeper must sweep well, a Manager must manage well, an actor must act well and a policeman must police properly. In similar vein organs of internal security must function properly. There is no other way. It does not matter how many blogs are written against terror, for country.
So leave MAS alone and let him do what he likes and does best.

And Saad: There is no need to "Give it back" coz this philosophy is safe for blogs only.

Garry Birring said...

@ anonymous

What wrong did I said? Most of the terrorists - as in people who kill innocent civilians in the name of God - are infact muslims! Prove me wrong otherwise.

Lets take examples of all major terrorist activities in India after independence:
1. Khalistan Movement: Sikhs
2. Naxalite Movement: Hindus (hindu caste and economic system was the reason)
3. North east: Christians
4. LTTE: Hindus(dravidians)

Hence Proved!!