Being a lover of history, I have been, for some years, stalking the quaint alleys, mohalla’s and its forts and descript havelis every time I visit Delhi. Over the years I have read many history books by various authors on history and especially the history of Delhi. The last time I was in Delhi it was the coldest day in many years. The temperature was 1 degree Celcius and some rumored that Gurgaon had reached 0, yet it could not deter me from going to the Sunday book Bazaar at Daryaganj, Old Delhi.
A Treasured Find
It is a Mecca of book lovers; a panorama of books on pavements available at a throw away price. Some of the books were real gems and as I kept marveling them, my eyes fell upon one book which has been my ultimate guide for Delhi monuments. It was a book called ‘Delhi that No One Knows‘ by author R.V.Smith. Some years ago I had chanced upon this book and ever since, this book had become my Bible and guide to the numerous lesser known monuments of Delhi.
R.V.Smith was born in Agra and belongs to an imminent Anglo Indian family He came to Delhi in 1961 and became sub-editor-cum reporter in the Press Trust of India. Two years later, he joined the Statesman and retired as its news editor in 1997. His weekly columns appear in The Hindu.
Memories with a Genius Neglected
I thought since I was in Delhi, meeting the author that I admired so much was not a bad idea. I immediately sprang into action, warming up my hands in the bitter cold and made some frantic efforts and soon found Mr. R.V. Smith’s number. I fixed an appointment with him for 2 PM. Mr. R.V. Smith lived on the other side of the city in a place called Mayapuri. As my auto rickshaw driver negotiated his auto rickshaw in the biting cold to towards Mayapuri, I had a few hiccups before I located his flat that lay in a modest middle class locality of Mayapuri.
Most of the other well known writers in Delhi such as Khushwant Singh and William Darymple have done exceedingly well for themselves, Mr. Singh of course always belonged to a well to do family and William Darymple too stays in a plush farm house in outskirts of Delhi. I was shocked to find that Mr. R.V.Smith emerge from a modest a 3rdfloor flat. He smiled at me and asked me if I would be comfortable sitting in the garden? I readily obliged after all I was with an author who I had always admired; to me he was a living encyclopedia of Delhi. We made ourselves comfortable on the park bench and for the next 3 hours, in spite of all the cacophony of children playing the park, spoke of our common interest in history and other related subjects that we share. It was the most enriching chat and experience of my life as a student of history and as a writer than I could ever imagine.
After chatting for more than 3 hours, Mr. R.V.Smith looked at his watch; it was around 5 pm. He said “Sameer, it’s my birthday today and I have not yet had my lunch.” Hearing this, I felt very sorry and embarrassed to have kept him waiting for so long for his lunch on his birthday. I apologized to him and walked back with him to his home to see him off. When I entered his house, I was disheartened to see that Mr. R.V.Smith lived in a very modest house. He seemed to be facing hard times. It was heart wrenching and painful to see an author of his caliber live a life of penury and devoid of basic things of life. Mr. R.V.Smith does not have or a car to commute or even a basic computer to communicate with the rest of the world. It was disheartening to learn that Mr. R.V. Smith is not a part of any literary circle of Delhi nor is a part of any book launches in the capital.
I requested Mr. Smith if I could get a signed copy of his romantic fiction novel called ‘Jasmine Nights and the Taj‘. He replied that he did not have a spare copy with him but he would surely post me a signed copy. I offered Mr. Smith to pay for the book and the postal expense but he refused to take money. I thanked him once again for his wonderful company and bid goodbye. I reached Pune in few days and the next day I received a parcel by courier and a signed copy of ‘Jasmine Nights and the Taj‘ with an author’s note which read:
“To, Sameer Khan, whose namesake is the hero of this novel; with memories of a wonderful afternoon on Jan 6 spent in the colony park while awaiting my birthday lunch.”
By Sameer Khan