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A south Delhi landmark is coming to west Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Browsing at the Bahrisons will no longer necessarily mean you are in Khan Market. “In January, 2008, we are opening a branch in Rajouri Garden Main Market,” says Mr Anuj Bahri, the bookseller.
On the face of it, there’s nothing new for a south Delhi establishment to spread to other parts of the city. PVR cinemas, for instance, did that by opening its first not-in-South-Delhi multiplex at Naraina in 2001. Five years later, Basant Lok’s Punjabi by Nature, an upmarket restaurant, opened an outlet at Raja Garden. But Bahrisons’ move to west Delhi is surprising in more ways than one.
First, aren’t stand-alone bookstores, like the Bahris’, dying? It’s hardly six months that Mr Anil Arora shut down his 31-year-old Bookworm at Connaught Place. Second, can a bookstore survive at Rajouri Garden? “People living in west Delhi hardly read,” says Mr Siddharhtha Gigoo, author of two books who lives in… ahem, west Delhi.
“I disagree,” says Mr Pavan K Varma, a Bahrisons regular and the author of The Great Indian Middle Class and Havelis of Delhi. “People in west Delhi read the same newspaper, watch the same soaps and read the same books.”
That may bring down the anxiety level of Mr Bahri. “Yes, it’s a big risk to open a branch in Rajouri Garden,” he confesses. “However, 40 per cent of this city’s population resides in the west and at least 50 per cent of them are affluent and move in the Capital’s known social circles.”
Why, that sounds like a Khan Market crowd.
“There’s a clientele in the west,” explains Mr Varma, “who would like to possess and claim as their own the same institutions which were the monopoly of the south.” Indeed, a highbrow hub on the lines of the India Habitat Center is coming up at Raja Garden.
“Lately we realised that many visitors to the bookstore are from the west,” says Mr Bahri. In fact, an internal survey conducted by him revealed Rajouri Garden as the destination frequented by “upper middle class people.” How could have Mr Bahri missed such an opportunity? After all, he is the son of a Partition refugee who opened this shop virtually without any saving and made it a snob spot on the city’s cultural landscape. “I’m at the Bahris’,” boast quite a few as they loudly ‘whisper’ into the mobile phones while checking out books here.
But Rajouri Garden is not Khan Market. The visitors will not always be expats, writers and jurnos. Besides, are Mr Bahri and his superbly informed staff aware of the reading habits of west Delhi? Would the traditional focus on current affairs work?
“Naturally the collection will be different,” he admits. “We’ll start with a good basic mix; store more on Sikh history, for example, and improvise later.”
That’s good business sense but will not this expansion threaten the shop’s unique character? During its 50th anniversary, founder Balraj had dismissed plans to open a branch. “We don’t want to become a departmental store," he had said. Five years later, son Anuj says, “The Rajouri Garden store is a part of the first phase of Bahrisons expansion plan.”
Perhaps it’s true that stand-alone bookshops are dying.
Come to the other one, too
Good luck, Mr Balraj Bahri