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A late journo’s library on the road

Have you ever wondered what is the fate of the personal library of a bibliophile who has lived and died alone? It finds its way into second-hand bookstores, writes Mayank Austen Soofi.

art and culture Updated: Apr 30, 2009 20:08 IST

This Sunday afternoon, browsing in Daryaganj’s Sunday book bazaar, I came across a row of old hardbounds, all well kept. There were works by authors ranging from Agatha Christie to Charles Dickens to Katherine Mansfield, including many books on cinema. The bookseller, Muhammad Javed, told me that these volumes had come from the house of Amita Malik.

Malik’s name had recently appeared in newspapers. A film critic and radio journalist remembered for bringing world cinema to the notice of Indians, she had died in February in south Delhi’s Kailash Hospital, aged 87. Malik was suffering from leukaemia. According to Javed, she had no children and her relatives and domestic staff, having no seemingly better option at hand, did away with her collection of around 2,000 books by selling them to a rag-picker. That man sold them to Javed for Rs 15,000. A steal, really, as the collection had rare Marcel Prousts.

The Assam-born Malik had been living in Delhi since 1946. With the years, she had become an institution and until she was admitted to hospital, I’m told, she would regularly go to India International Centre in the evenings. Though I never spotted her in Khan Market’s bookstores, I’m certain that she must have been a frequent visitor there.

On her death, Outlook magazine said: “Amita Malik’s sad and almost-solitary death was preceded by a few years in a state of homelessness, under roofs not her own and gradually forgotten by those who once feared her, toasted her, loved her, even hated her.”

Now, after her death, her books have also become homeless. Javed says that he has more of Malik’s books at his godown in Jamia Nagar. While leaving, I couldn’t resist picking James Joyce’s Dubliners. A green-coloured hardbound, it was a bargain at Rs 20. On the opening page was this inscription: With love. For Amita. 1.5.’45.