Delhiwale: The mind of a rare book dealer

9 months ago 28
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Scholars from around the world come to him. He is one of the country’s most well-known dealers of rare and out-of-print books on everything about India, though he manages his business from a part of the National Capital Region that isn’t really known for having very many bookstores. Vijay Kumar Jain, 80, lives in Gurugram’s Sector 14. Until a few years ago his address was in Sadar Bazaar, in the same city—the old family mansion was eventually sold away. Mr Jain started Prabhu Book Service in August 1962 with spare copies of difficult-to-find books his elder brother would pick up from footpaths of Delhi’s Sunday market. The shop truly arrived on getting its first major order two years later from the South Asia Institute in Germany’s Heidelberg University. Today there are about 8,000 books. Mr Jain keeps them in his home.

“Indira Gandhi was one of my customers,” says the gentleman with the bushy white moustache, as he agrees to become a part of the Proust Questionnaire series, in which we nudge fellow citizens from diverse backgrounds to make “Parisian parlour confessions” so as to explore their lives, thoughts, values and experiences.

Your favourite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality

I wish to look and behave as I am. Can’t pretend to show off what I am not

Your favourite qualities in a man

To stand your ground if it is a matter of principles

Your favourite qualities in a woman

To teach her son(s) to respect women

Your chief characteristic

To share jokes in a gathering

What do you appreciate the most in your friends


Your favourite occupation

Books, Books, Books

Your idea of happiness

To help or make even one unfortunate one happy if I can. Happiness comes from within when you give

Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune

To be gagged and not allowed to protest

If not yourself, what would you be?

An astronaut

Your favourite prose authors

Munshi Premchand and similar others

Your favourite poets

Rahat Indori who passed away recently. His Urdu couplet which touches my heart: “Do gaz hi sahi, meri milkiyat to hai; Aye maut tune mujhe zamindar kar diya.” Several other Urdu poets, too.

Your favourite composers

Several from the Hindi cinema

Your heroes/heroines in real life

Actor Sonu Sood, and others like him

What characters in history do you dislike

Dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi

Your favourite food and drink

Maa ke haath ki bani roti (mother’s roti) aur butter milk

What do you hate the most?

Dishonesty in personal relationships

Talent you’d like to be gifted with

Be a fine singer

How do you wish to die?

Surrounded by my books

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