Tucked away in a quiet side lane off a busy market, Timeless – The Art Book Studio is a delightful literary den for every connoisseur. From the luxuriant book collection to its stupendous setting, from serious buying to just ‘hanging around’ the bookstore is an absolute treat.
“Whoever said that money cannot buy happiness did not know where to shop for books”. This amusing mutation of an age-old adage was printed on my invoice, an unusual but quirky touch that only added to the several other offbeat things about Timeless that had already impressed me. With an uncommon attention to fine details that have gone into making Timeless, the bookstore is aptly called an Art Book Studio.
Located in a quieter lane off South Extension, a teeming upscale shopping centre in New Delhi, the book studio has the setting of a plush Victorian-styled study in a mansion. The visual extravaganza comprises period wooden furniture, deep cushion hues, traditional carpet weaves and the sensual but soothing play of reading lights.
Wooden book cases that rise from the floor, tower up to the ceiling and flow across the walls and alcoves. Couches with round coffee tables, and floors covered off-handedly in Turkish and Persian carpets invite readers for warm, cuddled-up readings. The staff flavours the experience by offering seasonal treats – brownies and tea in the winter and peppered lemonade in the summers.
In one slanted corner and very magnanimously open to visitors are a king-sized bed and rocking chair. I am told that these and some more wooden furnishings are more than thirty years old! Beautifully marring the historical ambience of the study is the presence of a large flat screen television set and a handsome burly Harley Davidson. Yes, the bike!
If this setting for a bookshop is not appealing enough during the first few minutes, then perhaps a short trip to the restroom could change the opinion. The tight, five by five feet spot has an in-built bookcase stacked with hard-bound classics, and the sink is supplied with branded essentials and a bookmarked comic copy to daub a personalised touch.
This design for a “personal study” was the idea of Mr. Raavi Sabharwal, owner of the store which is an unexpected combination of spunky bikes and the sublime Buddha and two recurring motifs in his store. Fiesty, sixty-six years old and fashionably black, Mr. Sabharwal says that he does not own the place, rather the place owns him. For him, the experience of creating is more important, the process of building more satisfying than the end result itself. He does not like to work on deadlines, and prefers perennial liveliness that offers creative joy. Perhaps that explains why Timeless is treated with such unconditional love, like a pet that is constantly being pampered, groomed and adorned.
A conversation with the man is highly recommended. Stylish without being ostentatious, tasteful without being pompous and lonely without complaining, Sabharwal is a natural storyteller. His anecdotes are lively often making fun of his own modest beginnings and unsuccessful marriage. In one instance, he narrated how his parents’ silver wedding anniversary even before his own wedding seeded the idea for celebrating his marital milestone, whenever that would be.
When, very ironically, his wife left him on their eighteenth anniversary, seven years later he still sent out invites for the event, that were received with vociferous admiration for the man’s spirit. In the same breath, the buoyancy is infused with a heart of gold. Sabharwal takes care of his eighty six year old mother, lavishly indulging her and even sleeping by her side.
So what kind of books does such a beautiful place sell? Books that are equally beautiful in their aesthetics and content. Books that are also weighty, leather-bound, slip cased, high in photographic print quality and heavy on the pockets.
Timeless prides itself in being a publishing savant of fine arts; its collection of book encompasses architecture, carpets, jewellery, textiles, fashion, food, wildlife, gypsies and movies. In addition to its retail store, Timeless also has a distribution business to an upscale clientele, as well as a publishing house that regularly churns out high end books the latest of which is the recently launched photo album on Taj Mahal by Raghu Rai priced at Rs. 15,000.
In a time when e-book stores are the norm and deluxe clients are diminishing, one wonders if Timeless still stands a chance. ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ is how Mr. Sabharwal impishly responds, very humourously hinting at how Timeless is not about revenues. It is not simply a place where one is meant to find a book. One is meant to linger on, absorb the ambience, hang around and is expected to come back for more.
Text By Farhana Ghelani
Photographs Courtesy Farhana Ghelani