City Secret – Kuldeep Booksellers, Daryaganj
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A must-visit for book lovers.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If there were no Indian Partition, there would have been no Kuldeep Booksellers. Started by the son of a Partition refugee from what is now Pakistan, this hole-in-a-wall, in this Daryaganj backlane, could shame South Delhi’s most hyped bookstores.
Get here quickly before anyone else takes away this entire stack of first edition Churchills, or that first edition of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or this rare set of hardbound Lincoln books, or this pile of automobile books, or the Princess Diana collection there, or those WWII encyclopedias on the top shelf, or these Time-Life cookbooks from the 60s, or this paperback on the French Revolution, or that beautiful-looking biography of Marlene Dietrich, or… well, I can go on and on for this small space is over-filled with 8,000 to 10,000 books.
“We get these books from the unsold stock of publishers, from raddiwallas and from the container,” says Mr Ankur Nanda, the older of the two brothers now running Papa’s business. While some old, rare books does come from ragpickers who get it from the indifferent inheritors of dead bibliophiles’ libraries, most are bought from the ‘container’.
This ‘container’, by the way, is God’s gift to Delhiwallas.
Most ‘phoren books’ (rare, first editions, old, new) that you see in Delhi’s second-hand bookstores, or even in Daryaganj’s Sunday Book bazaar, are there, thanks to the ‘container’. The books arrive monthly in India in a ship from USA that anchors either at Bombay or Chennai. There they are stacked into a large truck and sent to the Capital by road.
As is usual with such ‘city secrets’, a substantial number patronizes this bookshop, but secretly. Some fly in from as far as Chandigarh, Jaipur, Patna and Bombay. An antique book dealer from Simla buys these books at real bargain, and sells them at king’s ransom back home.
“Some of our regulars are only into bikes or geography or lighting equipments or old newspapers,” says younger brother Mr Anand. “When the new stock arrives, we give them a phone call.”
The Nandas also run a stall in Daryaganj’s Sunday Book Bazaar, near the Golcha Cinema, but this 6-days-a-week store has more choices.
The family took to selling books around 40 years ago when Mr Kuldeep Nanda, the father of these two young men and after whom this shop is named, entered the VIII standard. As was the custom, he went to Nai Sadak to exchange his old school books for the new. At that time there used to be less than half-a-dozen sellers in that street and inevitably there would be long queues. While waiting for his turn, Papa Nanda observed that booksellers were buying second-hand books for one-fourth the listed price from one customer, and selling them for half the listed price to another.
The next day the clever boy borrowed Rs 10 from his father, went again to Nai Sadak, bought a few books from students in the queue, sat on a footpath, sell a few of those books, and at the day’s end returned home with Rs 20. In his two-month-long vacation, our entrepreneur ended up making Rs 150, a big sum in those times. He soon left school and went full-time into the book trade. Now, with sons taking over from him, the founder-father lazes around at his house in Sant Nagar.
“We don’t get time to read books,” confesses Mr Ankur. “We do enjoy selling them.” And we enjoy buying them.
Suggestion The brothers are stubborn but bargaining possible Where 3070, Pratap Street, Behind Golcha Cinema Parking, Daryaganj Ph 011-3012-8013
Mr Ankur Nanda (left), Mr Anand Nanda