City Hangout – Sunday Book Bazar, Mahila Haat
Good old wine in new bottle.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Sunday Book Bazar was closed — no thanks, Omicron!
Whenever the pandemic situation eases, you have to visit the book bazar. For decades the weekly market for used books unfolded along the pavement of Daryaganj. Its long run abruptly ended in 2019 after the Delhi high court declared the area a no-hawking zone. Much chest beating followed. The bazar was relocated weeks later to nearby Mahila Haat exhibition ground. The new location intensified the feeling of loss. In the old bazar, you covered a mile by walking from one stall to another, with books laid out on the pavement. In Mahila Haat, you have to move in circles in a much smaller area. Not all the familiar booksellers would be seen. The crowd too dwindled (because of the pandemic, plus unawareness about the relocation).
The market’s best days were over.
And then things reversed.
In the gap between the second and third wave of Covid-19, the bazar valiantly overcame the double setback of banishment and pandemic. The crowd gradually returned, along with the best booksellers. In the previous week’s Sunday, this reporter grabbed six Virginia Woolf hardbounds, circa 1940s, for a mere 200 rupees.
This story, however, is not for bibliophiles, but for all citizens, including those who find books a bore. You ought to visit the bazar to witness its evolution in real time. Here you shall experience firsthand how a city’s cherished heritage recoils from the change thrust on it, how that unique heritage eventually embraces the change, and, in turn, transforms that very change. The new bazar is a microcosm of this long journey. Lounging in Mahila Haat on a Sunday no longer makes one homesick for the old Sundays of Daryaganj. One might even grudgingly accept that whatever happened was for good. The exhibition ground is a far superior site to browse books. You no longer have to worry about the traffic. The best thing, which was impossible to imagine in Daryaganj, is the lawn tucked on one side of Mahila Haat. Late in the afternoon, many book hoarders are seen lounging cross-legged on the grass, going through their catches of the day. Some lie down lazily, surrounded by their new acquisitions. This little patch of green briefly becomes Delhi’s best book-friendly park.
Then there’s one more joy of the bazar before you head home—the crispy Ram laddoos of vendor Som Veer who sets up his stall outside the market gate. They are super-tasty.
Change, for good