City Hangout – A Booklover’s Connaught Place
The definitive Delhi guide for book lovers.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The book is not dead. Not in Connaught Place, central Delhi’s colonial-era shopping district. One winter afternoon, The Delhi Walla visited all the bookshops in the Inner Circle, Middle Circle and Outer Circle of Connaught Place. At one store, I had masala chai. At another, a peepal tree leaf fell on my shoulder. At one store, the bookseller snubbed me. At another, the bookseller refused to bargain. I did not mind. Here is my guide to the bookstores of Connaught Place.
Cambridge Book Depot
Founded in 1943 by Sawan Ram, the shop was partitioned 44 years later by his descendants. The gallery-like space stocks (almost) every new talk-of-the-town book. But I come to browse their old guidebooks that have been lying unsold for many years.
Where 3, Regal Building Time 11am to 7pm, Sunday closed Ph 2336-3395
People’s Tree Bookshop
Popular for its thinking hippie’s Tees and artistically done accessories like bags, hair bands and watches, People’s Tree, circa 1990, has a cozy bookshop too. Opened in 2001, the book chamber has a good number of Hindi novels. The rest of the collection is eclectic. There are sections on cinema, theater and music. My memorable purchase was a hardbound reprint of the Architectural Review of London, circa, 1931, in which travel writer Robert Byron reviewed the buildings and layout of the ‘new capital of India’, which was New Delhi.
Bargain Book Store
Founded by Tota Ram in Dera Ismail Khan in 1910, the store, specializing in second hand books, moved to Delhi after the Indian partition in 1947. Tucked in the flea market of Janpath, it shares the narrow space with a garment stall. Ram’s son, Subhash Murada, owns the establishment but I love his shop assistant, Ahmad Bhai. Hailing from Bihar, he has charm, wit and – always – a pan in his mouth. He can also be catty. Once he gently snubbed a pushy woman who was bargaining over Rs 5. Ahmad Bhai said, “These are not salwar suits, madam. These are books. Give them respect.”
Where Shop no. 1, Mini Market, Janpath Time 10am to 7pm, Sunday open
Famous Book Store
Founded in 1933 by Arjun Dev Arora in Multan and Quetta, the shop moved to Delhi after the Indian partition. Arora’s successor, Rajiv, is soft-spoken. His shop has wooden paneling, a spiral staircase, and a Victorian clock. There are Chetan Bhagat bestsellers, Vampire novels, self-help books, management paperbacks, Delhi guides, tomes on Hinduism and dozens of coffee table hardbounds. I come here for two reasons. 1) It’s a rare place in Delhi to buy books of the Insight Guide series. 2) The doorman wears a waistcoat.
Where 25, Janpath Market Time 11am to 9pm, Sunday closed Ph 2335-4900
New Book Land
This circular store was the first outlet of the Midland Book Shop chain, which was established in 1988. Guarded by a giant peepal tree, the bookstore offers 20 per cent discount, but please “No bargaining, no return.” The owner, Mirza Salim Baig must be a polite man. With the shop just beside the entrance to Janpath’s Flea Market, he has to put up with queries like, “Where will I find jackets for children?” I come here primarily to swoon over the handsome coffee-coloured bookrack placed just outside the counter.
Where Janpath Market Time 10.30am to 8.30pm, Sunday closed Ph 2332-6468
Anup’s Book Stall
Connaught Place has many pavement bookstalls, many of them selling pirated editions with pages missing. Opened in 1990 by Anup Gupta, this stall in N Block, near Wimpy’s, has original editions. Don’t underestimate the stall just because it has no roof or walls. The collection is intensive – from novels to travelogues.
Where Opposite Shaw & Shaw, N Block Time 12pm to 8 pm, Sunday open
The Connaught Place outlet of a popular bookstore chain, the first floor establishment shares space with a music store. Unless you are fond of browsing while listening to Bollywood chartbusters, I see no reason why you should climb its creaky stairs.
Where N-17, Outer Circle Ph 2371-3921
Amrit Book Company
Circa 1936. Prem Sharma, the son of the shop’s founder, Amrit Dhar, claims that it is the oldest bookstore in Connaught Place. The place is mentioned in DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide: Delhi. Dhar says that his collection has all the books that cater to the taste of foreigners. But he is underselling his store. The bookshelves are stuffed tight with volumes on philosophy and yoga, novels and desi chicklits, guidebooks and historical fiction. Autobiography of a Yogi is arranged alongside Mein Kampf.
Where N-21, Outer Circle Time 11am to 8.30pm, Sunday open (only during winter)
Oxford Book Store
The ambiance is browser-friendly but books are arranged messily. I go for the blueberry muffin in their in-house tea lounge. The service is slow.
Where Statesman House, First Floor, 148, Barakhamba Road Time 11am to 7.30pm, Sunday open Ph 2376-6083
Founded by Bhimsen Mehta in 1960, this hole-in-a-wall store manages to stock a great range of bookshopey stuff – from novels, coffee table volumes, stationery to magazines and touristy postcards.
Where N-40-A, Outer Circle Time 9.30am to 7.30pm, Sunday closed
Delhi Book Company
Started in 1945 by Vishwa Nath, the shop has an old-world feel. May be it’s because of the low-hanging ceiling fans. The bookstore specializes in Hindi novels and children books. I’m a regular here for their Panchatantra comics.
Where M-12, Outer Circle Time 10am to 7.30pm, Sunday closed Ph 4151-7890
The English Book Depot
Don’t get taken in by the name. This is not the place to get Shakespeare or Chaucer. Opened in 1938 by Bhupinder Chowdhri, the shop sells books on military, hunting, shooting and especially aviation. There are paperbacks on aircrafts, airport design, air crashes and cockpit engineering. The store’s entrance has a giant model of Cessna aircraft hanging from the roof. The bookshelves are decked with toy planes. Siddhartha, the founder’s inheritor, says, “Our clientele comprises of aviation students and would-be pilots.” But I also spotted travel writer William Dalrymple’s books.
Where L-17, Outer Circle Time 10am to 7pm, Sunday closed Ph 2341-5031
Anil Book Corner
Figuring in Rough Guide to India, it’s a haven for booklovers scavenging for second hand books. Conveniently located next to PVR Plaza multiplex, you can browse here while waiting for the cinema door to open. The owner, Anil Kumar Aggarwal, doesn’t permit an easy bargain. Cultivate a relationship and you might find him flexible. Since 1972.
Where H Block, next to PVR Plaza, Middle Circle Time 10.30 am to 7.30pm, Sunday closed
New Book Depot
Originally run by a French couple, the current owner, Rakesh Chandra, gets upset if customers handle his books carelessly. The shop has retained its old-world charm of low-hanging fans, high ceiling, rosewood shelves and rickety wooden stairs. The shelves dedicated to Penguin classics are worth a visit.
Where B-18, Inner Circle Time 11am to 7.30pm, Sunday closed Ph 2332-0020
ED Galgotia & Sons Booksellers
Lovable mummy and papa, the cheery daughter, the cobwebbed roof and dusty shelves make up ED Galogotia’s charm. The ED in the shop’s name is Etendra Dayal. His son, Bhagwat, opened the store in 1933. Bhagwat’s son, Radha Krishna, is the current owner. His wife, Gunjan, and daughter, Pooja, largely runs the show. The shop serves tea (Rs 7), coffee (Rs 10) and soup (Rs 12). Come here for surprise finds.
Where B-17, Inner Circle Time 11am to 7.30pm, Sunday closed Ph 4151-3848
People’s Publishing House
Run by a trust belonging to Communist Party of India, drop by here to get books on Marx, Lenin and Mao. The attic has Soviet-era books, which makes for good mementos. Since communism is out of fashion (for now), the store has shifted its priority to Hindi authors and touristy guidebooks.
Where A-18, Marina Arcade, G Block, Outer Circle Time 10.30 am to 6.30 pm Ph 2332-4064
Central News Agency
In the 80s, Rajiv Gandhi hopped in to get the foreign photography magazines he subscribed through Central News Agency. Founded in 1936 by Balak Ram Puri, it is one of Delhi’s biggest and oldest companies that distribute Indian as well as foreign newspapers and journals in the Capital. The agency’s office also doubles up as a bookshop. Teji Bachchan, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s late mother, used to come daily in an auto to pick newspapers. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh regularly came to get his copy of The Guardian Weekly.
Where P-20, Connaught Circus, behind Shivaji Stadium bus terminus Time 11am to 7pm Ph 4363-1313
Rajiv Book House
It’s a novelty in Palika Bazaar, an underground market best known for porn DVDs, pirated CDs and fake T-shirt brands. Run by Rajiv Gupta, the shop has all the essentials-of-the-day: Tony Blair, Nostradamus, JRR Tolkien, Elizabeth Kolbert, Ramchandra Guha and Arundhati Roy. Also add in India-centric coffee table books, including the glossy hardbounds by photographer Raghu Rai. 20 per cent discount offered.
Where 30, Palika Bazaar Time 10.30am to 8pm, Sunday closed Ph 2332-3692