I’m still recuperating from the most exciting Sunday in my life. Last week I booked a train ticket to Delhi because I thought it would be fun to spend the weekend with my aunt and cousins. But I must admit that I went with another less familial intention as well. That other intention being the exciting sport of book shopping! Now it may be a little baffling to think that I went all the way to Delhi to buy a couple of books I could have easily bought from a bookshop closer to home. But I didn’t shop at any ordinary book shop. In fact I didn’t even shop at a book shop! The place I picked to let loose and book binge was the Sunday Book Bazaar in the Daryaganj area of Old Delhi.
Although this area of town is known to be busy throughout the week, Daryaganj is most famous for its Sunday Book Bazaar. Every Sunday the footpath of this market is transformed into India’s biggest second hand book market. This book market, guaranteed to make any book owl swoon in delight, goes on for over a kilometer and a half. And this being my first experience of the Daryaganj Book Market I was a little more than shocked to see books sold like clothes at a discount sale. Although some of the books were arranged neatly, most of the books were piled together or simply thrown together according to price. It kind of felt like I had stepped into a Farmer’s Market except instead of vegetables and fruit there were books, magazines, notebooks and journals.
One of the reasons these books are sold so cheap is because the book sellers don’t realize the value or the difference between the rare and the ordinary books. I don’t know what wisdom is used to separate the 20 Rupee books from the 30 Rupee books, but I have a strong feeling that the size and general appearance more than the content of the book plays a major role in the division. There was only one book seller who seemed to know his books well. But even his books were extremely cheap by regular standards. Of course most of the books here are discards by people who have no use for them, others are unclaimed books found on buses and trains later auctioned by the transport authorities to book sellers, and still others are old surplus copies of an edition that publishers aren’t able to sell. With the different sources that contribute to this unique second hand bazaar it isn’t surprising that all sorts of books can be found here. From the ubiquitous Nora Roberts to rare editions of the classics, this market appears to have it all. All you need to shop here is a keen eye and a love for wading and digging through stacks of books.
It goes without saying that the key to dealing in this particular market is a good bargain. It’s also very important to come here looking bored and uninterested, more so if you spot a book you want to get your hands on. As long as you’re able to keep the glint out of your eye you’ll find that bargaining is a breeze and buying 20 Rupee books is like everyday business. I still can’t believe that I bought The Bridges of Madison County for only 20 Rupees! The Daryaganj Book Market is, like one article in a Delhi newspaper put it, an Aladdin’s cave to the penniless book lover. And when I stepped off the bus and found myself surrounded by books, books, and more books! –I knew exactly how Aladdin must have felt in that cave. I bought 22 books plus 3 proper drawing pads and I spent only 800 Rupees!
If you’re ever in Delhi and if you’re as crazy about the written word as I am, you must make it a point to visit this part of Old Delhi on a Sunday. But be warned, the Daryaganj Book Market is not a place for snobs. People of all kinds can also be found here pushing and shoving their way about. But this is really an extremely small price to pay in the bargain of getting to buy your favourite books at throw away prices.