Southex Books and Prints: Pages from the ages in Delhi

Hosting one of the only antiquarian stores in the Capital, Southex Books and Prints spells vintage from every corner. 

author_img Dyuti Roy Published :  23rd November 2021 11:11 AM   |   Published :   |  23rd November 2021 11:11 AM
Southex Books

Sanjiv, his wife Ruby and their son Akshay are the current custodians of this store.

Tucked away in one of the many quaint lanes of South Extension is a charming site that can draw the attention of both history buffs and book lovers. Cast a glance from the outside, and the Southex Books and Prints looks like any other house located in the South Delhi neighbourhood.

​However, when you enter this store, be ready to be transported to a bygone era. Hosting one of the only antiquarian stores in the city, this space spells vintage from every corner—ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, walls adorned with timeless paintings, giant wooden bookshelves housing more than 4,000 literary page-turners, a grandfather clock, as well as antique furniture.

Of bygone eras

Established by GC Jain (85) in 1985, this store is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. When we visited the store on Saturday, we were greeted by the amicable Sanjiv Jain, son of GC Jain. GC Jain started trading in curios and antique books in Kolkata in 1967. “During that time, Calcutta [Kolkata] was affected by the Naxalite movement. My father lost his job but was pushed by Subho Tagore [the grand-nephew of Rabindranath Tagore] into this trade,” shared Sanjiv (58). GC Jain had set up this business by procuring rare books and maps either from auctions or the zamindars of princely states.

Sanjiv, his wife Ruby and their son Akshay are currently the custodians of this store. Talking about how difficult it is to curate antique books nowadays, Sanjiv informed, “It is hard to find [rare] items that are in good condition now. The climate has a huge effect on the paper, making it brittle. This adds to the restoration cost. There have been times when we had to pay more for the restoration than for the item.” Speaking about the authenticity of the items, he added, “Judging authenticity comes with experience. Books are mass produced now. You can feel the texture of the paper or look at the block prints and understand. It helps that most of these prints have exact dates written on them.”

A myriad collection

Specialising in rare, antiquarian books and lithographs about the Indian subcontinent, this place stores first editions, signed copies, illustrations, and rare artworks. Most of these items, which the family has curated over time, date back to the 16th Century. While you might find signed copies by authors including Jeffery Archer and JK Rowling, you could, in the bookstacks, also find first editions of The Constitution of India, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa, as well as one of the 1,500 copies of the three volumes of The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens by AS Butler, among other such rare works. Amid an array of interesting items, you will also locate a series of cigarette packets from the British era, featuring the 25 Governor Generals of India. The store deals in early maps as well, some dated as far as the 1640s, and a number of artworks by European and Indian artists such as Jamini Roy and Henry Singleton, which are priced between a few thousand to several lakhs depending on its rarity and condition. Catering to a global clientele, these items are mostly sold to embassies, collectors or even to industrialists. Sanjiv shared that the interiors of The Imperial, New Delhi are decorated with antiques bought from their store.

With such a unique collection, Southex Books and Prints is nothing short of a museum, and the Jains, the guardians of this country’s rich heritage.