Mission Delhi – Hari Narayan Ojha, Daryaganj
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He isn’t from Old Delhi, yet an integral part of it. Hari Narayan Ojha, 83, came of age in the Walled City. Today, his sons run, in the historic quarter’s Daryaganj, a relatively new bookstore borne out of his herculean struggles. A simple exchange of namaste with the graceful gent is akin to coming face-to-face with an Old Delhi monument. His brief biography, in his words.
“I was born in Gonda, UP, before the azadi. My father died very early. When I turned 20, I ran away from home. Had only 13 rupees. Remember boarding a passenger (train). Took three-four days to reach Dilli.
“I started as a salesman at Jain Book Agency in Connaught Place; later switched to Lyall Book Depot on Ansari Road. Later, joined Prakash Book Agency, in Connaught Place. During these first eighteen years in the trade, I learned which books sell, how demands of certain titles go up, or go down…
“I was putting so much hard work, not at all proportional to the low salary I was getting. So I quit the job.
“One day I went to Nari Sarak in Purani Dilli, and purchased a book for 50 rupees. I took it to Connaught Place and sold it to a (book) supplier for 100 rupees. Next day I went to Nai Sarak again, got books for 100 rupees, and sold them in Connaught Place for 200 rupees… so it continued. I had been a book salesman for several years. I had the experience.
“Soon, I took a kothri, a small room, in Purani Dilli’s Chandni Mahal on rent. I fitted it with book racks and a telephone, and made it my base. These were the important years of my life. I would supply books as a wholesaler across Delhi, and beyond. Dealing mainly with tourist books, I expanded my business dheere-dheere to many places that would be visited by tourists, like Connaught Place, South Extension, and to cities like Jaipur, Agra, Kathmandu, Benares.
“I moved out of Purani Dilli after 13 years and set up a shop at Subhash Chowk, in Lakshmi Nagar, where so many Purani Dilli people have migrated from their tang galiyan and mohalle.
“Seven years back, I helped my sons, Rajesh and Ramesh, start this bookshop, here in Daryaganj. I come here every evening from our home in Shakarpur, in a bus.
“I’m still surprised when I recall that I built this world out of just 50 rupees. I would be working all the time. Years passed so quickly.”
The bookstore patriarch now stands by a young book browser and poses for a portrait.
[This is the 536th portrait of Mission Delhi project]