Spirit of Bookstore: Writing Fraternity Remembers Midland Book Shop Founder Mirza Yaseen Baig
Image credit: The Citizen
"Erudite", "a gentle soul", "Delhi's beloved bookseller" and "the spirit of a bookstore" were how the patrons of Mirza Yaseen Baig, founder of the popular Midland Book Shop in Delhi, remembered him after he died on Thursday at the age of 94.
Baig, who arrived here from Hyderabad in 1970, having packed up his bookstore in Sultan Bazar, started out at the heart of the national capital, Connaught Place, with a small kiosk previously owned by a florist.
His love for books and book lovers was readily noticed by the likes of writer-historian Pushpesh Pant, who was then a college student.
"I used to scrounge for books on the footpath. Baig had started selling second-hand books on the pavement at Janpath. At times I had some money but mostly I did not and he would say, 'take the book'. Paperbacks would cost some Rs 2-2.5 those days and I would give him 25 paisa, 50 paisa, whatever I had, and pay the rest later," Pant told PTI.
What started as a young student's association with a benevolent bookseller some 50 years ago led to a family connection, with Pant's son and daughter buying books from Baig's sons and grandsons.
"He would take a risk and say, 'take the book and return it after reading'. Someone could have easily taken the book and disappeared. But this man was very sweet.... A very few booksellers allowed browsing like he did at his shops," the food critic said.
One could spend hours at Baig's shops reading a book without being disturbed.
"As if to send a gentle reminder of how long you have been sitting at the shop, someone would come and ask you if you want some tea," Pant remembered fondly.
Baig went on to open four bookstores in Delhi-NCR over the years, all run by his sons and grandsons now. While he visited the Aurobindo Market shop on a regular basis, he refrained from sitting behind the counter.
"He would sit outside the shop, with a heater in winter and a fan in summer, and insist on getting up to greet me whenever I visited the shop," Pant said.
Even though he was only educated in Urdu and Farsi, not in English, Baig was aware of the interests of his regular clients and would suggest new books to them.
"Mirza sahib made buying books a personalised experience," said writer Rana Safvi.
"He ensured that each customer was shown the books that catered to their individual interests. He leaves behind a legacy of four bookstores operated by his family members, all of whom are as invested in their readers as he was," Safvi said.
Remembering Baig, filmmaker and writer Sohail Hashmi said, "There was something about that gentleman -- the way he handled books, the way he picked them up. You knew that he loved books. He was not like so many other booksellers. There are booksellers who are in it for money and there are those who are in the business because of the joy they get from books. He (Baig) was in it because he loved books," Hashmi said.
Author William Dalrymple remembered Baig as "a great figure of literary Delhi" who was "charming, erudite, enthusiastic and super welcoming to authors".
Other writers and regular customers at the Midland Book Shop also took to social media to pay tributes to Baig.
While writer Namita Gokhale called him "the spirit of a bookstore" in her tweet, Mrinal Pande said the "erudite and grand old bibliophile" has left behind an "enduring legacy".
Author Amish Tripathi was "grateful for his support when I needed it most".
"A kind and gentle soul, he backed my books 12 years ago, when few others did. I will always be grateful for his support when I needed it most. Farewell, Baig saab. Till we meet again," Tripathi wrote on Twitter.
Baig was laid to rest at the Panj Peeran Kabristan in Nizamuddin here on Friday. He is survived by his wife, five daughters and four sons.
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