City Landmark – New Book Land, Janpath
A circle of books.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some places are like Mount Everest. You might not have been to them, but you know they are there.
Same is the case with New Book Land. The shop is particularly familiar to every Janpath flea market loyalist, at least by sight—that round kiosk in the middle of a broad pave, with book-lined windows on all sides. On a busy day, the shopping crowd swarms around the place like ripples of sea waves, most people going onwards to get kurtis, jeans, jootis from Janpath shops, but some do pause to gaze a moment more at a book cover, or two. The landmark has been chronicled in dailies, mags, blogs, and Insta handles. Being curious about everything Delhi, you, dear reader, are obviously in the know that the store was founded in 1978 by the legendary Mirza Yaseen Beg (died 2022) who went on to open iconic bookstores in both Delhi (South Extension, Aurobindo Market) and Gurgaon (Shopping Mall, DLF, Phase 1), each handled by one of his sons.
But this time the Janpath landmark is experienced in a style never attempted before. Rather than browse the books from outside the kiosk, here is browsing the people from inside the kiosk. Owner Mirza Salim Beg kindly grants this one-time intrusion this evening.
Shocking to discover that It is a very small world inside; a third person will make any movement impossible. But so cosy. Meanwhile the Janpath’s bargain hunters are moving nonstop around the circular store, like pilgrims making circumlocutions around a shrine. From within, all these dressy people seem like colourful fish swimming busily in the aquarium. A young woman stops. 11th standard student Shruti silently browses through a stack of novels, and tosses a query to owner Salim whom she addresses politely as bhayya. He answers her in a polite beta.
Moments later, a solemn-looking man stops, makes an eye contact with the bookseller through the window, and appears on the verge of asking for some profound paperback… you half-expect him to mutter the name of Annie Ernaux or Louis Glück. “Where’s the way to toilet,” he asks. Salim answers: “Walk straight, turn left at the traffic light, very clean toilet.” Later, he says, “Raasta batana poonaya ka kaam hain (it is a good deed to guide people to right directions.”
On emerging out, it is like landing back on earth.