There are some bookshops you go to only to make a transaction. You spend a few minutes, pick up the book you want, ask how much, pay up and you are out of there, already in another place in your head.
And some are from joy. Bookworm was my joyful spot. The small shop on one of the radial roads which joins the middle and the outer circles was a necessary pit stop for more years than I can remember. I couldn’t go to CP aka Connaught Place (all this Rajiv Chowk nonsense is for the post-metro, post-internet generation) without haring off to Bookworm and spending many pleasurable hours in there. Because of the place itself, bright, airy, the two levels joined by a spiral staircase that led you to heaven.
And because of its owner Anil Arora, who became, what I call, a “bookfriend”, who very quickly learnt your name and your choices, and started keeping aside those books he thought might interest you, for the next time you came.
It wasn’t as if there weren’t other bookshops in CP — there was the New Book Shop, there was Galgotia & Sons, there was also that second-hand corner right next to Plaza theatre. Then, there were the bookshops in Khan Market and Jor Bagh, which so many people I knew swore by. Not me.
Some other bookshops did manage to snaffle some of my time. I began frequenting the first outpost of Midland on Janpath; I also started visiting Fact and Fiction in Vasant Vihar. But my unswerving loyalty remained with Anil and his Bookworm, which was suffused with Anil’s sharp intelligence and warmth and lilting jazz melodies. Funny thing, Anil may have been a seller of books, but what he spread was knowledge about many things, particularly jazz. Whenever you walked in, there would be a jazz legend playing. You could groove along while you browsed.
I discovered the delights of excellent writing on cinema in Bookworm. Anil had some great stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else. And I used to nudge him all the time to stock the sort of specialised crime and science fiction I was a huge fan of, handing out my next wish list. He would make sure to reach out to his distributors to get the exact thing I wanted. So many times I didn’t have the money, not right then, and he placed the book in my bag and smiled. He knew, and I knew, that I wasn’t going anywhere, no siree.
When the metro construction began unloading rubble right at his doorstep, I could see that his once-bustling shop was on its way out, like so many of the original dwellers in CP. The last time I had gone in there, our conversation had touched upon closing the space. What are you going to do with all these books, I’d asked. And he’d said, please come home and take as many as you like.
He passed away two days back. So many friends who shared a love for Bookworm and the man who ran it called and messaged. One common thread ran through them all — Anil, the lover of jazz and the purveyor of all kinds of exciting volumes, gave us bookworms a place to call our own, never mind if we were early birds or not.
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