City Landmark - Chicken Corner & Maktaba Bookstore, Urdu Bazar

City Landmark – Chicken Corner & Maktaba Bookstore, Urdu Bazar


Story of bookstores.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Chicken Corner. Is that what the great bookstore has become? No disrespect to the pavement eatery, but it is right outside the bookstore, blocking the access to the shuttered front (see photo). Maktaba Jamia Limited has been closed for more than a month, since the beginning of the Ramzan, says the eatery cook. The assertion is confirmed by a staffer at the next-door shop.

Founded in 1949, this Old Delhi landmark in Urdu Bazar is governed by a board. Late last year, it triggered waves of chest beating lamentations when it shut down for a few days. Sentimental eulogies even popped up on Facebook. The bookstore reopened following the uproar.

Similarly iconic bookstores elsewhere in the city never re-opened after downing their shutters, permanently replaced by their own metaphoric Chicken Corner. Take Fact & Fiction in Basant Lok market. It is now a shoe shop. Opened in 1984, no other place in the capital offered such a diverse range of thoughtful selections of books in literary fiction, religion, cinema, philosophy, travel, music, science, history, wild life, cookery, ecology, economics and poetry. Owner Ajit Vikram Singh, a jazz music aficionado, was polite to genuine readers and to those who at least knew how to properly hold a book, but was less patient with others. A notice pasted on the door warned—‘No Food or Drink’. The shop closed in 2014.

Or, take The Bookworm in Connaught Place (CP). It is now a clothes showroom. Long ago it used to be a liquor shop before its jazz-loving owner, Anil Arora, converted it into a bookstore in 1977, which quickly became CP’s cultural landmark. Old timers lovingly recall the spiral staircase that went up to the mezzanine floor’s esteemed collection of cinema books. The two shop assistants gladly gave books on credit to regulars, never embarrassing them by payment reminders. The shop closed in 2008.

CP had two more iconic bookstores, next to each other. New Book Depot, founded in 1925 by a French couple, and later passing into Indian ownership, was closed by bookseller Rakesh Chandra in 2012. Galgotia & Sons, opened by Bhagwat Dayal in 1933, was closed by bookseller Radha Krishna Galgotia in 2015. Both the shops are now a single showroom hosting the outlet of a clothing multinational.

Coming back to Maktaba Jamia Limited, its long-time attendant Ali Khusro Zaidi—a living encyclopaedia of Urdu literature—is a legend in the world of Delhi bookstores. Speaking on phone from his home in Chand Bagh, the erudite soft-spoken gent, who started manning the Maktaba in 1978, says he quit the job in February. Irrespective of the bookstore’s eventual fate, his departure ends an era.