Mission Delhi – Surinder Kumar Dhawan, Paschim Vihar
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If it were just any other Sunday, Surinder Kumar Dhawan would have already started packing his books by now—it is 5 pm.
But it’s a Sunday during the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr Dhawan has not gone to the weekly secondhand book bazaar in Daryaganj. He hasn’t gone for weeks, actually. “The market is closed since the lockdown started…. there has been no earning for so many days,” he says talking on WhatsApp from the isolation of his home in west Delhi’s Paschim Vihar.
Mr Dhawan’s stall has one of the best book collections of the Daryaganj Sunday book market, if your taste veers towards literature. He first set up his establishment in 1998. Until early this year, he would sit under the arcades of Asaf Ali Road, just outside the glass doors of Hotel Broadway. But the bazar was shifted to Mahila Haat, an exhibition complex across the road, a few weeks before the corona virus started playing havoc with our lives. Stall number 144 was the new address of Mr Dhawan’s stall
“The market was just beginning to settle down in the new place when the virus arrived,” he says in a regretful tone.
Living with wife, Disha, and sons, Puneet and Rishabh, Mr Dhawan rarely steps out of the house these days except to get rations for the kitchen. Back in the BC (Before Corona) era, during the weekdays, he would exhaust his waking hours visiting “kabadi-wallas” and “importers of used books.” It would be hard work certainly but this zeal added that je ne sais quoi to his collection, making his stall so different from others—rummaging through his piles of books on any given Sunday would inevitably result in the unearthing of editions so precious that you could have easily sold them for a fortune on eBay. Once a happy customer got lucky with Ernest Hemingway’s first edition of A Moveable Feast, which Mr Dhawan gladly sold away for 200 rupees only.
Regulars can easily testify that on most Sundays Mr Dhawan’s stall would be stocked with at least a thousand books.
But no book racks are visible in the bookseller’s home as he shows his dwelling through the phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla. “All our books are in our godown in Nangloi.”
While Mr Dhawan might be responsible for enriching the shelves of some of Delhi’s most dedicated book collectors, he himself isn’t into reading. The lockdown however has made him read two books. “I’m watching TV news a lot, but one gets fed up of it after a point… so I read Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist and Anurag Pathak’s Twelfth Fail.”
Earlier in the day, the book man got a call from a fellow bookseller who predicted that business in the book market won’t get back to the old days at least for six months after the lockdown is lifted.
Now checking the time, Mr Dhawan muses that “by now, if there were no corona, and it was just another busy Sunday evening, we would have packed our unsold books in the van and we would be about to leave.”
He would have reached home only by 9 at night, after keeping the books back in the godown.
[This is the 297th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The Sunday bookseller’s lockdown Sunday