City Hangout – Basant Lok Market, South Delhi
Missing the old landmarks.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s a small space but it doesn’t matter. You are stepping inside Delhi’s most eclectic bookstore. Here’s the owner poring over The New York Review of Books. Walk straight, reach the end and look left—loads of travel books. If you are into contemporary fiction, turn to the rotating shelf near the glass door. The poetry section lies… well, today it’s all a rubble of bricks if you peer through the shuttered grills. Fact & Fiction shut down years ago.
Certain places can be revered not for what they have, but for what they had. That’s what makes an excursion to Basant Lok market so poignant. It is filled with the ghosts of its much-loved landmarks, whose existences, until some years ago, were taken for granted.
Today, as the coronavirus pandemic deeply cuts through our lives and sensibilities, making the immediate past look profoundly distant, the older losses that unfolded a few years ago have turned into legends of an extraordinary past. This gives Basant Lok market the patina of a fairy tale.
The area’s signature landmark is Priya cinema. No queue of cinema-goers waiting to enter the hulky edifice (theatres and multiplexes in the Capital reopened after 3 months with 50% occupancy from Monday).
The broad passage that connected the market’s two plazas was dotted with a series of snack joints serving super-spicy momos and thukpas—you needed a napkin to wipe your nose continuously. They’re all gone. Metal benches lie where they stood.
This market was also the site of India’s first TGIF—it is history. The country’s first McDonald’s opened here as well, and still exists. But the Om Book Shop, tucked near the burger place, is gone. It had steep stairs leading to a spacious basement stacked with thousands of books. The guard at the bottom of the stairs would always ask you to leave your bag with him.
But back to Fact & Fiction. Bookseller Ajit Vikram Singh wouldn’t smile as you entered. He had the reputation of not being particularly friendly. “Most of my differences happen with customers who ill-treat the books,” he once explained. “A bookshop requires a certain amount of sanctity, and sometimes I have people rushing in with dripping ice cream cones.” His presence lingers on in Basant Lok.
Market of losses