City Hangout – Second-hand Books of Paharganj, Central Delhi
Finding thrill in unexpected places.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some go to Paharganj, the backpackers’ ghetto in central Delhi, to have emergency love with lonely foreigners. The Delhi Walla goes for novels they leave behind in the second-hand bookstores there. Take my latest conquest – Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. It has a naked woman on the cover. Through inscriptions and jottings scribbled on the paperback’s mildewed pages, I present you its biography.
This copy was published by Alfred A. Knopf in USA in 1989. Next year, on July 27, at Flaggstaff café in Sheridan, Wyoming, one Patrick O’ Neil gifted it to Gertrude Flannery, a woman with long brown hair.
Two-and-a-half years later Gertrude married Ronald Lee, a Chicago attorney. One day while shifting houses, she gave away the unnecessary novels (that included Love…) to a thrift store where Craig Centrie, a visiting student from New York City, bought it for his girl friend Martha, who worked as a night clerk at a gas station in Queens.
Martha fell for a Turkish immigrant called Yilmaz and flew to Istanbul with him. She carried Márquez for airplane read. Something sad happened in Turkey and a heart-broken Martha returned home in despair, leaving behind the novel in Yilmaz’s house.
What happened next is not clear but the book ended up at a stall in Sahaflar Çarşısı, Istanbul’s second-hand book market. There, a man named Alberto Abruzzo, an Italian from Milan on way to India, picked it up. Four days later, while walking down Paharganj’s Main Bazaar, Alberto stopped by Jackson’s bookstore (opposite Medikos Opticians) and exchanged his Márquez for a Vikram Seth. That same evening an Indian man bought that Marquez for 200 rupees. That was me.
OK, most of this story is just story. But you got the idea?
In Paharganj, you often find novels within a novel. A second-hand book on sale there is likely to have jottings, notes, bookmarks, and sometimes, even photographs of people. Some books I bought there bore the stamps of bookshops in cities as far apart as Rawalpindi, Jerusalem, Kathmandu and Santiago. Almost all their recent readers were backpackers. That’s a thrill. After all, adventure lies in exploring unfamiliar territories, which could be found in cities as well as books. In Paharganj’s second-hand bookshops, you get both.