The bookseller is busy cleaning the shelves –
goes his duster. Puffs of dust rise. “We have to do it every morning,” says Rakesh Chandra of the New Book Depot, Connaught Place. “Otherwise, books gets so dusty.”
Finicky about his books, Chandra occasionally gets into tiffs with customers. “There are a few who do not hesitate to put a piece of paper on a book and write on it, without realising that this will leave an impression on the book cover,” he says. “When I object, sometimes they are mortified and apologise, and sometimes they say, ‘Who do you think we are?’”
With an accent that is more British than that of the British, this 54-year-old gent belongs to that dying breed of booksellers who are in the trade for the love of books. This passion was what made him join the business, not because the shop belonged to his father. On December 1, 1946, his father bought New Book Depot from a French couple, who had started it in 1925.
Upstairs in his office, Chandra looks down from the open office into the floor below. His son, Uddhav, is sitting on his chair — handling customers.
It is difficult to imagine the changes that the next inheritor will bring to this bookshop. Chandra has retained its old-world charm of low-hanging fans, high ceiling, rosewood shelves and rickety wooden stairs. “Against the pressure to make the layout what is called sleeker and shinier, I have preserved the old look with zeal,” he says.
He can’t do much about the changing profile of customers. They have grown younger. Mostly college students on romantic dates, they commute by the Metro, get off at Rajiv Chowk, pick up a coffee or a patty and walk into the bookshop. “Sometimes I find chewing gum stuck on the floor. It never happened before.”
Genteel and very English, Chandra is like the old Connaught Place (CP) that no longer exists. Individually-owned stores in this British-built shopping district are making way for retail chains. People come to CP for movies and food, not necessarily for books.
“The other day, I was reading a piece on Kindle,” says Chandra referring to the electronic book device. “But the ability to browse, handle and smell the book is possible only in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.”
To retain the sanctity of his store, Chandra is considering drafting a set of rules for customers. “It will be like the Ten Commandments,” he says. “No phone chat, no coffee, no bags, no eating…” Just then, Chandra’s son interrupts him from the ground floor. “Dad, do we have Spanish language authors?” The father shoots back, “Yes, Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa.”