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Delhiwale: Dayanita Singh’s special bundle of books

In a studio lined with books, a set of two dozen stands discreetly on a dark-wood shelf. From Rilke to Kabir, this is these are the books that Dayanita Singh loves the most.

delhi Updated: Jan 02, 2018 12:35 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
Delhiwale,Dilliwale,Dayanita Singh
Dayanita Singh in her studio at Vasant Kunj. (Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

There are bookshelves everywhere, even outside, just beside the door.

One afternoon, we step inside Dayanita Singh’s studio. The internationally acclaimed author-photographer’s pad in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar is a maze of book-filled rooms. Even the kitchen shelves are stacked with the printed word. A few racks are filled with nothing but petite black Moleskine diaries.

Ms Singh, however, has a relationship with only two dozen books. That beloved stack stands discreetly on a dark-wood shelf. Walking towards this special bundle, she picks up Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and opens it randomly. The slim paperback, we discover, is already torn into two parts.

Why can’t she get a new copy? Ms Singh sighs deeply, saying, “I have had this copy since my first year at NID (National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad)… when I was 18.”

Now, Ms Singh shows us her old copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of Her Own and gently places the aged edition on the table.

Eventually she spreads out all her most-loved books across the table. Flipping through the pages of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz slowly, serenely, with a faint smile playing on her lips, she says, “Austerlitz is my favorite photo book. If Sebald were alive, I would hand over my fileroom archive to him. No one can combine image and text like Sebald.”

A minute or two later, Ms Singh gets distracted by a pamphlet-sized book — He Has the Heartless Eyes of One Loved Above All Else by Alexander Kluge.

Meanwhile, Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter is waiting for its turn to be loved and caressed.

We also spot Indian poets in the bundle: AK Ramanujan and Vikram Seth. The lovely New York Review of Books edition of Kabir’s poetry, translated by poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, is worth flicking but the book’s owner unfortunately, has a very alert eye. Finally, Ms Singh again picks up her torn Rilke, handling the book with immense care.

First Published: Jan 02, 2018 12:29 IST