City Hangout – Book Adda, Daryaganj
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Oscar for Delhi’s most exciting bookstore goes to… why tell others, why share the booty?
Book Adda, since 2014, is among a handful of used bookstores lining a stretch of the Netaji Subhash Marg in Daryaganj. The capital’s longtime book hoarders are familiar with the footpath here as the site of the legendary Sunday Book Bazar. That weekly market lately shifted to nearby Mahila Haat, and continues to be a dependable destination for prized catches. But this shop, open seven days a week, is a perpetual Sunday Book Bazar where the sun never sets. In the past few weeks, more exciting stuff have been discovered here than in the more extensive Mahila Haat. Consider some of the very many marvels this reporter fished out over scores of days: The Oxford Companion to Music (first edition, 1938), a bulky 1984 book-sized catalogue of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Homer’s Odyssey (first edition hardback of the classic Edward Fitzgerald translation), and the super-rare Wallace Stevens’s Collected Poems (limited 1954 first edition, manually numbered, costing thousands of dollars on the net!).
The titles corresponding to your exact reading partialities might not be instantly visible. A bookworm must patiently dig into the stacks. Sometimes the book towers tremble and fall on the floor. You then say sorry, and continue with the hunt.
The incredible thing about the place is that it sells the books as if they were aloo-gobhi: the pricing is set on a kilogram basis. So where a trashy title can be undeservingly pricey, a truly rare volume tends to be undeservingly cheap. Altogether, an afternoon experience here ends up being less costly than an evening in a Khan Market patisserie.
The shop sources its “classics” and “antiques” and “coffee table volumes” primarily from the UK. The used hardbounds—some are “library discards,” some are old inscribed copies whose owners are presumably resting in peace—enter India through seaports in Gujarat and Mumbai. They are transported to Delhi warehouses on highway trucks, and finally reach Daryaganj in a mini-truck or van, where the bookstore staffers haul the book stacks to the display tables inside.
Statutory warning: the quality of such a bookstore fluctuates as unpredictably as a volatile stock market. It all depends on the latest imports. Safer to call it the city’s most exciting bookstore this season.