City Hangout – Muhammad Akhtar’s Book Stall, Near Aggarwal Sweets, Vaishali
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s got almost everything a human being would need. This particular suburban zone in Vaishali in Ghaziabad suburb in the Greater Delhi Region is chock-full of malls, multiplexes, mithai shops and private hospitals offering all manner of buying choices.
But—hardly any bookshops.
Best bet is a well-stocked used book stall at the Main Market in Sector 4, close to Aggrawal Sweets. “I collect books from ragpickers,” says owner Muhammad Akhtar gruffly. At the same time, so many of his books look brand-new. But he has no time for explanations: customers await.
“Maybe you’ll like this,” he mutters, removing Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief from under a pile and offering it to a customer. The young woman seems uncertain about the recommendation.
The stall is curated like a mainstream TV series aiming to please all sorts of target groups. Authors range from JK Rowling and Jack Welch, and plenty of classics, too. Mr Akhtar says he founded the stall some 20 years back, which makes it older than many of the establishments in this region.
Another browser arrives. He indifferently picks up Ramachandra Guha’s India after Gandhi, flips through the pages and wordlessly keeps it back, purposefully moving on towards the direction of a “dental treatment implant center.”
The bookseller also got an unusually extensive selection of business-oriented titles, like Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way. Perhaps indicating the suburb’s aspirations. Otherwise, the stall is all too eclectic: Nehru’s Discovery of India is stacked alongside The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
The establishment offers long opening hours. Daily from 8am to 11pm. It’s easy to spot for it looks—no, looked—exclusive. A second-hand bookshop opened just recently outside the Vaishali Metro station, nearby. But that’s a story for another time.
Consolation in the suburbs