It takes place every Sunday in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj, on the mile-long footpath between Delite cinema and the iron footbridge, near Jama Masjid. The book bazaar, circa 1964, is the destination to find all kinds of second-hand books: novels, memoirs, whodunits, quiz books, classics, encyclopedias, chicklits and sometimes, rare first editions.
The books are sold dirt-cheap. An informed seller hikes up the price if he feels that the early 20th century edition of a Jane Austen novel is rare. But such wisdom is rare in the bazaar. If your eyes show no glint while coming to rest on a ‘catch’, you can easily bargain a novel from Rs 100 to Rs 10. (The best trick: if you are an Emily Bronte fan, pretend to be totally bored on spotting a weather-beaten 1877 edition of Wuthering Heights.)
Every Sunday morning, as you hail an auto for Dilli Gate (or Delite cinema), the only thought sweeping your mind would be: "What book will I get this time? Will I get Rebecca West’s travel classic on Yugoslavia?" In the excursion, you won’t get that Rebecca West, but you might land up with, say, James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. You had never heard of this book, but you might just grab it on an impulse for Rs 30 (after bargaining). Back home, when you would be reading this book, you might realise that this was the book you had wanted all your life. Of course, after 34 weeks, you would get that Rebecca West too.
Daryaganj’s Sunday book bazaar is so crowded, that only a committed booklover can brave the chaos in the quest of Tennyson or Tagore. Its gutter-lined lanes are no place for snobs. The crowd is a mix of hippies and urchins, students and artists. Pushing around is considered civilised. Booksellers are as rude as the buyers. And your cellphone and wallet can always be flicked off from your pocket.
After your shopping is done, you are guaranteed to end up hungry. But there are not many dining options in Daryaganj, unless you want butter chicken in Moti Mahal restaurant (near Golcha cinema) or Kashmiri food in Chor Bizarre restaurant (near Delite cinema). To relax, walk to the nearby Jama Masjid and curl up with your latest paperback.
Nearest Metro station New Delhi (exit from Ajmeri Gate)
Daryaganj’s Sunday Book bazaar is like Ali Baba’s cave for penniless readers
Once known for its groceries and bookstores, central Delhi’s Khan Market, circa 1951, is now a mish-mash of restaurants, lounges, boutiques, footwear stores and home decor showrooms. But the reason why Khan Market remains so special is still the same — its great bookshops, even though their number is reduced to three.
Khan Market is cheap only if your papa is Mukesh Ambani. According to a global survey by a New York-based real estate consultancy firm early this year, it is the 21st ‘most expensive’ destination in world. Unless you are buying Chetan Bhagat novels (Rs 99 each), the bookstores make for casual visits only by booklovers from Golf Links bungalows. The books are first-hand, the booksellers are polite, but don’t expect any discount.
Khan Market bookstores are the kind of watering holes, where Delhi’s thinking lot go to satisfy their consumerist gratification. There they buy the latest books by Ramachandra Guha and Thomas Friedman, reviewed in the Sunday editions of Hindustan Times and The New York Times. The book assistants, unlike the sellers in Daryaganj, are up to date with the trade. They are likely to know about all the volumes that Naom Chomsky has published so far. They are especially helpful when you have no idea about any books and have to gift them to your book-loving girlfriend or boss.
One goes to Khan Market bookstores to see and to be seen. VIPs like Kapil Sibal are regulars. Once, Jairam Ramesh was seen buying The New York Review of Books. Actors Dilip Kumar and Dimple Kapadia too have been sighted. The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez visited a bookstore here in the 80s. Recently, William Dalrymple came here for a book-signing event.
After your shopping is done, you will still not call it a day. Have a blueberry cheesecake in Big Chill or khao suey in The Kitchen. Get a kurta from FabIndia, or a Mughal-e-Azam pillow from Good Earth. Or simply watch the market’s hip crowd. To relax, walk to the nearby Lodhi Garden and curl up with your latest hardbound.
Nearest Metro station Humayun Road
Khan Market’s bookstores are the best place to show off Delhi that you are a booklover.