As a rule, in Daryaganj’s Sunday book market, the book you seek will not be seeking you. As a second rule, one day equals one week in book-market time -- at least, that must be why it shows up as a permanent presence on Google Maps. These mounds of books covering an L-shaped expanse between Delite Cinema on Asaf Ali Road and far down Netaji Subhash Marg have fed the souls of generations of Delhiites. That’s why its current troubles make us feel hollow inside.
This Sunday, when the market returned after a gap of five weeks, we rushed in with a bear hug. Then we trawled through the wares to compile a directory of the market’s most bountiful book-sellers. Since their pavement pop-ups don’t have names, here’s a guide organised by whom to know. Thank you, Daryaganj, and may you never have to take your leaf.
For Coffee Table Books:
Mr Radheshyam: Find delicious photo books about everything from Indian textiles and Andy Warhol, to modern paganism and dogs. Lucky spottings include hardbound gems like The Illustrated History of Football, and Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries, all priced between Rs 100 and 1000. If you make conversation while you choose, you might get invited to their bookstore in Mandawali. Near Kotak Mahindra Bank, next to Delhi Stock Exchange, call Mr Radheyshyam at 7835922464.
Mr Anant Kumar: A new-looking $15 book for Rs 150 is a proper steal, especially if you’re a film nut who enjoys books about Broadway, Hollywood and Clint Eastwood. History lessons on the Sunday market can also be availed from the elderly owner. Near Banerji Building, Asaf Ali Road, call Mr Anant Kumar at 9811989859.
For Children’s Lit:
The Siddiquis: Here you’ll find glossy and hard-page storybooks for readers up to seven years (starting at Rs 50) and encyclopaedia and atlas collections (maximum of Rs 700) for older children. If the owner’s father happens to be there, he will be happy to explain how these books were sourced from the United Kingdom. Add-on: they promise to source any book that the reader requests. Near Sana Diagnostics (opposite the police station), Netaji Subhash Marg, call Mr Farid Anwar Siddiqui at 9811366109.
Mr Mohammad Saif: An absolute treasure trove: comic book collections ranging from Marvel to Champak; pocket-book editions of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens; volumes of the cute Ladybird series for first-time readers; and everyone you’ve ever loved between RK Narayan and Louisa May Alcott. There’s also a huge stash of illustrated mythology and history books about everyone from Sai Baba to Mother Teresa, if that’s your thing (or your young one’s). Near Delhi Chamber Building, opposite Mother Dairy outlet (Delhi Gate). Mr Mohammad Saif doesn’t own a mobile phone, but assures us he’s consistently been here for 18 years. There’s always chai brewing in the shop behind him.
Mr Deepak Kumar: You’ll know him by the very lively activity books, early-learning books for kindergarteners, fairytales and extensive Panchatantra collections, all sold for under Rs 100. Near Axis Bank ATM (next to Communist Party of India office), Asaf Ali Road, call Mr Deepak Kumar at 9654701156.
Mr Mishra: This is easy to spot what with all the students crowding it. Neatly piled by category, find here everything from class IX textbooks to study materials for civils. You will be serviced with a book within fifteen seconds, and turned away equally fast if you bargain. Near Oriental Insurance Building (by Metro’s gate number 3 of Delhi Gate station), Asaf Ali Road, call Mr Shyam Sundar Mishra at 9540688456.
Mr Chopra: A very friendly bookseller who will have alternative recommendations in case the book you desperately need is out of stock. Near Central Bank, Asaf Ali Road, call Mr Mahesh Chopra at 9811166076.
Mr Diya Lal: His is the only stall with an extensive collection of TIME, Vogue, The Economist, and everything else, none of which will cost more than Rs 50. Admittedly, the New Yorkers can be evasive. Near Disha Restaurant, opposite Daryaganj Police Station, Netaji Subhash Marg, call Mr Diya Lal at 9958040332.
For Sheer Chaos:
Mr Javed: He collects and sells almost everything, but his USP is historical non-fiction on the Indian sub-continent written by European chroniclers; and fiction based in India, Afghanistan, and Tibet. Leave your number if you’d like recommendations on specific themes WhatsApped to you. Mr Javed’s spot (almost) marks your halfway journey through the market. Landmark: shop with hot-selling bread pakora, 20 steps from here. In winter, he is hidden by foamy clouds of ‘daulat ki chaat,’ carts selling which are likely to be spotted here. Opposite main gate of MTNL Building, Delhi Gate, call Mohammad Javed at 9818136161.
For A Total Deal (& Long Lunch Break):
Mr Surender Kumar: Twenty rupees here to pick from a disarray of frothy English paperbacks. If you have a book to trade, you pay only ten. Guaranteed: Free philosophy lessons on the self and service. Time your visit for lunch so you can squeeze into Hotel Broadway for a meal at the OG Chor Bizarre located right next door. Near Hotel Broadway, Asaf Ali Road, do not call Mr Surender Kumar (he hates to be bombarded with phone calls).
For Hindi Literature:
Mr Anant Kumar, Again: A gargantuan collection of the classics: Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Bhagwan Das Morwal, Ramdev Shukl, all in the company of Premchand. Near Banerji Building, Asaf Ali Road, call Mr Anant Kumar at 9811989859.
For Underdog Urdu:
Mr Mohammed Salman Khan: This one is easy to miss, despite being richly stocked with old issues of women’s Urdu monthly magazines -- Pakeeza (that the bookseller describes as “addictive”) and Khatoon-e-Mashriq. Urdu Duniya, Jaraim (a pulp-fiction monthly), and khush khat, or calligraphic Urdu-writing practice books, are also part of this alternative universe. You’ll find literary criticism of Urdu literature in English too. With a slight nudge, the young bookseller may be induced to give you his deeply engaging talk on the penny-pinching modern Urdu reader. Near Masjid Nabi Bakhsh, opposite office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Netaji Subhash Marg, call Mohammad Salman Khan at 9818468002.
Mr M Arif: The only stall of Urdu novels anyone will ever direct you to at the Sunday market. Near the rear gate of MTNL building, Delhi Gate, call M Arif at 9899938940.
Mr Nisar Ahmed Khan: For an appeal on inter-faith understanding (courtesy the vendor) and books on Islamic theology, visit the mini-van bookstall of Markazi Maktaba Islamia Publishers. Outside Oriental Insurance Building (main gate), Asaf Ali Road, call Nisar Ahmad Khan at 9310178364.
Mr Mohammad Habib: Find here everything from hardbound leather-cover diaries, to spiral notebooks, Barbie-themed lockable books, folders, and writing and colouring implements. Dada Stationery, opposite Mother Dairy outlet (Delhi Gate), Delhi Gate, call Mohammad Habib at 8586034216.
Mr M Arif (not the novel seller): Spiral notebooks in varied-quality paper, loose sheets, and drawing files with ivory and cartridge paper starting at INR 50. Also available for purchase by the kilo. Main gate, Oriental Insurance Building, Asaf Ali Road, call M Arif at 9899938940.
Mr Himanshu Ojha: A big, deep hit for your bibliosmia. Find here classics and translations from the 1950s. Reportedly 20 percent comes from the personal collection of writer and collector Vishal Nagaraj, books that he painstakingly gathered from this very market. Chances are he might also pull a piece of newspaper from March 1947 out of his wallet to demonstrate his love for old, yellowing pages. 3258 Netaji Subhash Marg, opposite Daryaganj Police Station, call Himanshu Ojha at 8375883876.
Getting there: Exit from gate number 3 of Delhi Gate station (Violet Line) to step right into Daryaganj’s Sunday book market.
Akshita Nagpal is a multimedia journalist based in New Delhi, India. She has reported and shot for Scroll.in, The Caravan, The Wire, and The Hindu.
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