City Report – Municipal Council of Delhi Vs Daryaganj’s Book Bazaar

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A Mother Ruined by Reading

The uncertain future of the Sunday market.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Not all are in love with the Sunday book bazaar in Daryaganj. On June 22nd, 2009, while the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Daryaganj police station was on leave, additional SHO Madan Lal ordered the weekly book bazaar to be closed. The reason: the huge book-buying crowd is said to cause traffic congestion, pick pocketing and eveteasing. It doesn’t help that Municipal Council of Delhi (MCD) has been saying since past few years that the bazaar’s present location is an outright encroaching of the public land.

Who could have imagined that the happiness of bibliophiles would be embroiled in a mishmash of issues like pick pocketing and encroaching? That the survival of the only place where most Delhitess get access to rare first editions will depend on MCD?

Expectedly there have been passionate outbursts. “How could they,” asks Mr Ravi Nihal who has been paying a weekly visit to Daryaganj from his home in Meharuli. “This is Delhi’s greatest institution!”

From Delite cinema at Asaf Ali Road to the footbridge at the left turn to Jama Masjid, the mile-long pavement turns into one super-large stall selling everything from pulp thrillers to 19th century encyclopedias. The books here are shipped regularly from as far as the USA and Canada. People come from all over India and even abroad, to pad up their personal libraries.

So will this all be history? “The market may or may not shut down,” says Mr Surinder Dhawan who has a delightfully eclectic book stall next to the Broadway Hotel. “On Sunday, as I was preparing to leave my godown in Peeragarhi, the shopkeepers called me to inform that the police is not letting anyone set up the stalls.”

Why? “No one is sure,” he replies. “Some say there’s a new SHO while others say there’s a court order, but no one knows the reality.”

It isn’t the first time that rumours of the bazaar’s closure have surfaced. In 2005, the MCD had wanted to shut down the market for “being an unauthorised affair”. Then a little pull from politicians and a few newspaper quotes by writers like Khushwant Singh (“the bazaar is a real treasure…”) somewhat eased the pressure. However, the MCD intends to move the bazaar to Mata Sundari Road near ITO. But can the book browsing be even half that fun without Daryaganj as the backdrop?

“What’s so romantic about Daryaganj,” asks Mr Deep Mathur, MCD spokesperson. “Contrary to notions about the Daryaganj bazaar being 50 years old, it was relocated there from near Jama Masjid just about a decade ago and now we are only suggesting for it to move to a better place.” If that’s what it takes for books to find a home.