Tuesday, October 27, 2009

City History - Sunday Book Bazaar, Daryaganj

The Delhi walla's pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls - Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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City History - Sunday Book Bazaar, Daryaganj

The origins of the market.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

There are many eclectic titles available at the popular second-hand book market held weekly in Daryaganj, but you would never find this one – The Definitive History of the Sunday Book Bazaar. There isn’t any. With around 200 booksellers, there are as many versions of the market's history. Sample this: The bazaar was established outside Red Fort. No... below the lohe walla pul in Daryaganj. The bazaar was founded thirty years ago. No... actually, in the time of Akbar Badshah. And so on.

After chatting with four really old booksellers, and cross-checking their reminisces, a more credible chronicle has emerged. Be warned: it could still be a fact-fiction hash.

Fifty years ago, a kabadi bazaar selling used clothes, sandals and furniture was held each Sunday near Jama Masjid in the Walled City. The shops would be lined on both sides of what was once Delhi’s biggest fish market. In 1964, three men gate crashed the bazaar, set up stalls next to the Victoria Janana Hospital (later renamed after Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba) and started selling second-hand books.

After five years, the kabadi bazaar was moved to Red Fort’s ‘backside’. It is unclear who ordered the move: Delhi Police or Municipal Council of Delhi (MCD) or some other government organisation. In any case the few booksellers there had a tough time. The 'backside' was not easily accessible by public transport; there was no water, no shade. Within six months, Kuldeep Raj Nanda, one of the three original booksellers of Jama Masjid’s kabadi bazaar, left the place. By setting up a Sunday stall just below the lohe walla pul, the pedestrian overbridge made of iron, he became the first bookseller of Daryaganj’s weekly book bazaar.

Mr Nanda was soon joined by another bookseller, then another, and another, and one more, and then one more. For six straight days, these men would ride all over the town on their scooters visiting the kabadis – from South Extension to Mehrauli to Malviya Nagar to Safdarjang Hospital’s backside to Garhi in Lajpat Nagar, and also to trans-Yamuna neighbourhoods. The kabadis would get used books from wealthy families in the city, and these booksellers bought them on the per-kilo basis. On the seventh day - that would be Sunday - the books would be displayed on a little stretch in Daryaganj.

Initially, a small number of passers-by would notice the stalls and stop to check out the books. Some ended up buying. Gradually, a few of these became regulars. They talked to friends about this row of book stalls, about cheaper rates compared to other such stalls in the city, about the variety - from sociology, anthropology, philosophy to fiction, current affairs, childrens’ literature. More people started coming. More booksellers joined. The little stretch extended from the lohe walla pul to Golcha Cinema; then to the Telephone Exchange, near Dilli Gate; then to Broadway Hotel. At the time of writing this piece, the last book stall lies next to Delite Cinema’s box office.

The Sunday Book Bazaar has evolved to be a city institution but its existence remains threatened. Periodically the Delhi Police blames the huge book-buying crowd to cause traffic congestion. The MCD frowns at the encroaching of the public land. Such talk spread rumors of the bazaar’s impending closure. Then a few newspapers carry stories with quotes by ‘intellectuals’ on the bazaar’s preciousness. This creates outrage among the 'right thinking people'. Things cool down. The following Sunday thousands of booklovers from Delhi and other Indian cities again gather in Daryaganj to make a bargain.

Note There's an underground parking area opposite Broadway Hotel, on Asaf Ali Road

Encroaching of the public land

City History - Sunday Book Bazaar, Daryaganj

But that's OK with the bookworms

City History - Sunday Book Bazaar, Daryaganj


Mohd. Raghib said...

“Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have while trying to write one.” Robert Byrne ----- we are safe to buy more & more from there.

Ramit said...

I've never visited it. But now after reading this I plan to sometime soon. Any ideas anyone on where to park your car when you go here?

Bhopale said...

Mayank, was just pondering about 'Dastango - the lost art of story telling' as mentioned in your previous post. Came across profile of Mahmood Farooqui who appears to be working on reviving the art. Care to profile him on Delhi Walla?

Abdusalaam al-Hindi said...

Although an interesting place to visit, what I find odd about the Daryaganj book bazaar is my observation that most book stalls are selling the same stuff.

If the books found at the bazaar are supposed to be used throw-away books bought by kabadi walla's, then how come there is a abundance of the same kind of books through out the market.

Does this mean we are all reading the same kind of books in Delhi?

( http://abdusalaam.blogspot.com )

heena said...

quite a research!

binu said...

i have also brought books from daryaganj before returing kathmandu.i love daryaganj secondhand book market. in kathnandu also, we have second hand book shops but not in large scale as delhi

Anonymous said...

are yaar origin se kya lena but a vry mast place tovisit.khana pina nd full too masti nd tht too on a very sasta.so enjoyyyyyy there on any sunday...unique experience nd apart books there is kachodis of jain sahab near telephone exchange nd bantey ale bottle at prience pan nd if paisa hai to moti mahal ya chor bizzare,hahaha

Anonymous said...

I had a full; collection of all the books on Royal Family (HRH Queen Elizabeth to Late Princes of Wales) and guess where I bought it all from?


Thanks Soofi.

Anonymous said...

Hi,Your Blog,s Really Great.Wish there were More Such blogs-in relation to other Indian Cities.
Keep up the Good Work.

Wanderer said...

best thing about this place is the number of books you can pick up in a mere 100 Rs. A lot of the book sellers are very knowledgeable and realize the value of their books...but there are again plenty of those who sell hardbound original copies of international bestsellers for as little as 20 Rs

samad said...

Hello Delhites
I heard on 13th Dec 09 from someone that DARYAGANJ SUNDAY BOOK MARKET has been shifted somewhere. Is it true? If yes where has it been shifted? do let me know. My mail id is SHIRAZCOOL@HOTMAIL.COM Thanks and waiting for your replies.
All the best