City Hangout – Pintu’s Penguins, Sunday Book Bazar, Mahila Haat
A new star.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Times change, institutions alter. The iconic book bazar that used to unfold every Sunday on Daryaganj footpaths has been moved to the exhibition ground of Mahila Haat. It is very close to the market’s old site, but the experience is profoundly different. In the old bazar, you walked a mile from one stall to another, with books laid out on the pavement. In the new bazar, you move in circles. The space is much smaller, there is less mobility, there are no snack stalls, and the stalls are fewer.
Also, some stars of the bazar are missing. Bookseller Surinder Singh for instance, who would sit outside the Broadway Hotel with some of the best selections in novels and poetry, hasn’t opened his stall in Mahila Haat yet.
Such absences are sorely felt. But the bazar has a new star.
Pintu’s stall has a most incredible collection of paperback classics published by Penguin in the 1950s and 1960s. While the titles might easily be found elsewhere, you won’t get them in such stunning cover designs, which also evoke an earlier era in the book publishing art.
“I have 10,000 old Penguins in my godam (warehouse) in Sonia Vihar, but here I bring only a few hundreds,” says Pintu, real name Ashwini Kumar. The stall was founded by his father Jaleshhwar Prasad in 1993 in the old bazar, but it did not stand out then. The stall’s current collection has come from “containers” arriving by sea from the US and UK, and road-transported to Delhi by trucks. That’s the primary way of sourcing books by the bazar traders, apart from scavenging in the city’s private libraries.
This afternoon, Pintu’s selection includes all the Signet editions of Shakespeare plays from the 60s. These paperbacks are cherished for their minimalist yet richly detailed camp-style covers. They were the work of the legendary Milton Glaser, the American graphic designer famous for his 1967 poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair and his iconic “I ♥ NY” logo. He died last year. Pintu’s Glaser collection includes a copy of The Tempest, in which Miranda’s luscious ringlets are sprouting a dreamy vapour-like image of her father, Prospero.
Now a masked browser picks up a paperback of Jean Genet’s Thief’s Journal, whose cover shows a man’s head etched with images of Greek sculptures. The customer thinks 100 rupees is too much for this priceless copy and goes away. Good for those who will value it truly.
Pintu’s stall lies opposite stall 8, in the center of the grounds. The bazar is held every Sunday from 3 pm to 7 pm, and is expected to open at 8 am from September onwards.