Mirza Yaseen Baig, owner of Midland Book Shop, one of Delhi’s most popular, passes away at 94

Its aisles packed with books catering to every interest, and helpful suggestions tailored to each reader’s interest coming in from a family member helming the cash register, the Baigs and Midland Book Shop have been an integral part of south Delhi’s literary life. But the story of this family-run enterprise, one of the city’s beloved indie book stores, began with the enterprising Mirza Yaseen Baig, the family’s grand patriarch, who set up the book shop in the city nearly five decades ago. Baig passed away on Thursday, November 24. He was 94.

In the 1970s, when the Telangana Movement in Andhra Pradesh began affecting commerce in the city, the Baigs, who ran a bookselling business in Hyderabad’s Sultan Bazar, decided to shift to Delhi. Over time, the New Book Land, a kiosk in Connaught Place set amid the hubbub of the Janpath flea market and at a stone’s throw from Depaul’s, became the first stop for Mirza Yaseen Baig in 1978, who would cycle across the city, building up a clientele for his books. By the time I launched Midland in Aurobindo Market in 1985, I already had a loyal client base in place. Since then, the Baigs have added two other stores to their family-run enterprise, one in South Extension Part I and the other in Gurugram, each with a cult following of its own.

From ministers to authors and publishers to cash-strapped college students, teachers and parents eager to introduce their toddlers to reading, Midland became a pit-stop for book lovers across ages, in part owing to Mirza Baig’s entrepreneurial foresight. Long before the onslaught of online book behemoths offering heavy discounts, Baig began selling books at a discounted rate of 20 percent to his customers, building up a conducive environment for readership. He backed young authors, giving them prominent display in his stores and went out of his way to suggest books to each reader who walked into his store, a trait continued by his sons and grandsons, who now run the family enterprise. As news of the patriarch’s death broke, writers and long-time patrons took to social media to pay him tribute. Food historian Pushpesh Pant tweeted, “Deeply saddened by (the) passing (of) Dada Sahib Beg (sic)… He lavished affection on me and kindly allowed me to buy expensive books on credit in the early 1970s. Teens to 70s bond continued. For me this is an end of an era…” “…A kind and gentle soul, I backed my books when few others did. I will always be grateful for his support when I needed it most…” tweeted writer Amish Tripathi.

Despite his advanced age, until before the pandemic, Mirza Baig was a regular at the Aurobindo Place outlet. When interacting with customers became limited because of hearing difficulties, he would sit outside in a chair, flanked by rows of books, watching people savor his labor of love. “As I recall Mirza Yaseen Baig’s gentle smile as I sat in the courtyard outside his bookstore, watching the world pass by, I am overcome by nostalgia and remembrance. I knew Midland from the early days in Janpath. Then, in the Eighties, more than a quarter century ago, I began frequenting Midland in Aurobindo Place. Mirza Yaseen Baig had an intuitive and instinctual understanding of both books and readers. He could guide his customers to the exact book they were searching for. It wasn’t a sterile environment — readers were encouraged to browse, and the smell of paper and books and the warmth and unassuming scholarship he passed on to his children and grandchildren make Midland the great institution that it is,” recounts writer Namita Gokhale, a long-time patron of the book shop.

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