Being a lover of history for years I have been stalking the quaint alleys, Mohalla’s, Forts and descript quaint haveli’s of old Delhi every time I visit Delhi.
Over the years I have read numerous history books written by various authors esp. the history of Delhi. The last winter I was in Delhi it was the coldest day in many years, the temperature was 1 degree Celsius yet it could not deter me from going to explore the Sunday book Bazaar at Daryaganj, Old Delhi.
Sunday book Bazaar was a Mecca for book lovers, a panorama of books on the old Delhi pavements available at a throw away price and some of the books were real gems. I kept marveling and browsing the myriads of books when my eyes fell upon one book which had captivated me and had been my ultimate guide for Delhi Monuments it was a book called “Delhi that no one knows” by author R.V. Smith.
About 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. The author of the book Mr. R. V. Smith was born in Agra and belongs to an eminent Anglo Indian family. He came to Delhi in 1961 and became sub-editor-cum reporter in press trust of India. Two years later he joined the Statesman and retired as its news editor in 1997 but his weekly columns still appears in The Hindu.
I thought since I was in Delhi, meeting the author that I had admired so much was not a bad idea and thus I immediately sprang into action warming up my hands in bitter cold making some frantic phone calls and soon found out Mr. R.V. Smith’s number. I fixed an appointment with him for two pm in the afternoon. I found out that Mr. R.V. Smith lived on the other side of the city in a place called “MayaPuri”
My auto rickshaw driver negotiated his auto rickshaw in the biting cold towards Mayapuri, I had a few hiccups before I located his flat that lay in a modest middle class locality of Maya Puri.
Most of the other well known writers of Delhi such as Khushwant Singh and William Dalrymple have done exceedingly well for themselves. It was disheartening to find Mr. R.V. Smith emerge from a modest third floor flat. He smiled at me and asked me If I would be comfortable sitting in the garden outside? I readily obliged, after all I was with an author who I had always admired and to me was a living encyclopedia of Delhi.
We made ourselves comfortable on the park bench and for the next three hours in spite of all the cacophony of children playing in the park we spoke of our common interest in history and other related subjects that we shared. It was the most enriching chat and experience of my life time as a student of history and writer.
After chatting for more than three hours Mr. R.V. Smith looked at his watch it was around five pm. He said “Sameer, it’s my birthday today and I have not yet had my Lunch” hearing it 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 to see author of his caliber live a life of penury and devoid of basic things of life. He did not have a car to commute or even a basic computer to communicate with the rest of the world. It was also painful to learn that Mr. R.V. Smith is not a part of any literary circle of Delhi nor is ever invited of any book events 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 before bidding him Goodbye!
I reached Pune after 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 wonderful afternoon on Jan 6 spent in the colony park while awaiting my Birthday Lunch”
By Sameer Khan, a playwright, blogger, independent writer and a published author. He tweets by @samkhan999
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