City Landmark - Promenade Books, Hauz Khas Village

City Landmark – Promenade Books, Hauz Khas Village

Life in the village.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Outside, Jack Kerouac’s poster is staring from the glass wall. Inside, black shelves are stacked with Nietzsche, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, etc.

Delhi’s newest bookstore opened ten days ago. Promenade Books in Hauz Khas Village transports the visitor to the HKV that was.

Today, the bustling village is full of noisy cafés and teenage couples, but until a decade ago it was more matured, with a lot more art galleries, experimental restaurants (miss you, Gunpowder!), and a handful of alternative bookstores. Yodakin was run by an independent publisher, and for some time was manned by an arthouse actor, who would sit at the counter poring over some brainy paperback, his head tilted in a way that one could see the tattoo on the back of his neck. Toddy Shop was not a bookstore but a bar that regularly hosted poetry evenings hosted by author Jeet Thayil, and where the bills would come in poetry books. Kumzum bookstore, which has lately launched a series of sprawling outlets in posh locales, started in HKV as a travel café, with a radical “pay what you like” scheme for coffee, chai and cookies.

Today, all of these places are as much a part of HKV’s rich past as the 14th century tomb of Emperor Feroze Shah Tughlak, the village’s historic heart.

The brand new Promenade in fact brings back a glimpse of that old HKV. This evening, the place is packed with young browsers. It is like entering some underground club on a weekend night, half-expecting your wrist to be stamped at the door. The bookstore’s founder is the man in blue shorts wearing a T-shirt bearing the faces of the musicians of English rock band Blur. Abhay started as a publisher the previous year, eventually setting up the shop because “we needed to make a physical address where we could talk to people about books.” Turning to a shelf crammed with the books he publishes, Abhay says “we bring back the books which have ran out of print and have been forgotten like they never existed.” Most of the writers are from Europe, he notes. Among the published authors are Frederick Rolfe, Henri Barbusse, and Ivan Bunin. The store will release a William J. Locke title the next evening, with a sufi-rock session by university student Ahmed Mir. Last week, it celebrated Kerouac’s 102nd birth anniversary; a recording of the ‘On the Road’ author’s reading played on a loop for two hours.

Soon, more folks troop in. Somebody’s fingers uncertainly tap on Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano.’ As challenging as Joyce, a voice cautions.