City Hangout – Best Stalls, Daryaganj’s Sunday Book Bazaar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Imagine Agra without the Taj.
Well, a similar horror was recently experienced by Delhi’s booklovers for whom their city’s most cherished landmark is arguably the secondhand book bazaar held every Sunday in Daryaganj. Four weeks passed and the market didn’t open—ostensibly because of security complications arising out of the Republic Day parade and the ASEAN Summit.
To great relief, the market finally reopened. The place lives. And yet, The Delhi Walla is suddenly confronted with the reality that what I had taken for granted might not last forever.
So, when its Sunday, I urge you to spend some quality hours there. It’s a sight to see the footpath disappearing under the ‘maal’. The ‘maal‘ being the seller-speak for novels, memoirs, whodunits, quiz books, classics, encyclopedias, coffee-table books, pulp fiction, foreign magazines and, sometimes, rare first editions.
The best way to explore the bazaar is of course to stop by every stall (there are more than a hundred!) but to make your life easier, I guide you to the best stalls and to the nice people who run them.
Surinder Dhawan’s stall
His 12-year-old stall, close to Delite cinema, is one of the best.
In his heap of thousands of volumes, Mr Dhawan has everything – from Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Annie Proulx to Jackie Collins to New England cookbooks… and once I even spotted something as obscure as the memoirs of Michael Bergin, the Calvin Klein poster boy. Two months ago I picked up an old Everyman hardbound edition of the Collected Jane Austen. My Virginia Woolf’s five-volume journal, too, comes from here.
“Ships arrive at Mumbai and Gujarat with large book containers from the US and Canada, dealers buy in bulk and we get the maal from the dealers,” says Mr Dhawan. While he has 20,000 books tucked in a godown in Nihal Vihar, he brings just a fraction of that collection each week to Dayaganj. That’s enough to pull in booklovers from as far as the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh and Rajasthan.
The low pricing adds to the appeal. For instance, in a regular bookshop, you’ll get Toni Morrison’s Beloved for Rs 400, while Mr Dhawan once gave us its first edition (hardbound!) for Rs 100.
Next to Hotel Broadway, Asaf Ali Marg
She is one of the only two women to run a stall. While the other sits with her husband, Asha manages business with her son Saurabh. She often surprises with not only vintage editions but also old newspapers and magazines. Once I got a yellowing newspaper with the fresh news from Chernobyl nuclear blast on its front page. While the mother sits with the books, the son walks the bazaar picking up choicest books for cheap and selling them for profit at his stall. Both folks are friendly and don’t mind if I continue to haggle until they come down to a good price.
Near Prabhat Prakashan bookshop
Muhammed Javed’s stall
His collection looks really second-hand – dog-eared pages, cracked spines, and scratched covers.
Muhammed Javed lives in Jamia Nagar and when people living in Kalkaji, Sarita Vihar and Okhla want to dump their grandpa’s books, they ring his mobile number. That’s why his collection is so eclectic. Gore Vidal’s gay short stories. Prince Charles’s biography when he was still a bachelor. Shobha De’s Starry Nights. Or a hardbound of Jane Eyre. My most memorable purchase from him was years ago when I picked up a great number of film-based books—they all belonged to critic Amita Malik who had died a couple of weeks ago.
Where Opposite the Telephone Exchange, close to Shiva’s statue
Parveen Kumar’s stall
It’s stocked with hardbound biographies of famous Americans from politicians and army generals to film stars. Sometimes amidst this messy pile, I find rare catches, like last week when I picked up a Faber and Faber edition of Auden’s poetry. Mr Kumar lives in Bhajanpura and is the vice president of Daryaganj Patri Sunday Book Bazaar Welfare Association.
Mahesh Kumar’s stall
His stall is very deceptive. It looks forgettable at first look. But if you patiently concentrate, you will inevitably spot at least one book that you were never aware of but absolutely desired all your life in some strange mysterious way. Incidentally, last week we got an old Proust edition. Mr Kumar started his shack 30 years ago “when there were only 12 stalls.”
Near Golcha Cinema
You may have your favourite sellers, but Daryaganj’s Sunday book bazar has much more to offer if your legs don’t give way easily. Some years ago we found the first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (cover jacket intact) buried under a pile of John Grisham paperbacks. For Rs 100!
Best tip: Stop at each stall and scavenge, scavenge, scavenge.