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One coffee table, many books

Fancy this — a table is placed against a bookshelf; you are having, say, jasmine tea; a qawwali or some Buddhist chants are playing on a music system behind you; and Indian street life...

books Updated: Jan 13, 2010 19:57 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

The setting of this café, or rather, a spot in the café, is very special. Perhaps you won’t find it anywhere else in Delhi. Fancy this — a table is placed against a bookshelf; you are having, say, jasmine tea; a

qawwali

or some Buddhist chants are playing on a music system behind you; and Indian street life — complete with cows, beggars and

sadhus

— is unravelling before you, a step away. All this comes true at Raja Book Center.



Surrounded by books


Situated in the Main

Bazaar

of Paharganj, the city’s backpacker district, this bookstore runs on the premises of Grand Sindhi Restaurant, a low budget eatery with multi-cuisine menu choices ranging from kimchi rice to

muesli

fruit curd to chicken

goulash

.



The table is right at the eatery’s entrance. To the sides are second-hand paperback stacks comprising books by the Dalai Lama, Jalaluddin Rumi, Dan Brown, Deepak Chopra and dozens of Lonely Planet guides. The restaurant menu is available in English and Korean; the books are in English, German, French, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, Korean and Swedish.



Sound of music


Mohammad Tafuzzul opened the store in this 50-year-old eatery at the start of the millennium. He also sells music CDs, which explains why this corner is forever humming with ragas. The rack is mostly stacked with Hindustani classical CDs. “Foreigners like to buy Indian classical music,” says Tafuzzul.



While there are two bookshelves at the restaurant’s entrance, there is a book ‘cell’ inside, too. If you have the time, you will find paperbacks by authors as varied as the poet Emily Dickinson, the novelist Premchand, the travel writer Geoffrey Moorhouse.



Almost like Paris

The food, books and music, however, are not the reason why the place is unique. Paharganj has many such

addas

. But no other place has a coffee table that close to the street (think Parisian cafés without the cattle and the nagging beggars) looking out to such a fascinating sight.



Besides Paharganj residents, you have tourists from all over the world walking up and down the road. Opposite is a lane that is home to hotels favoured by Israeli visitors. They are easily distinguished by the

kippah

, the traditional cap worn by orthodox Jewish men.



Small ‘n’ sweet


The bad thing is that the corner is too tiny, with just enough space for a table and four cane chairs. Rarely is it empty. “This is a special place,” says Steven Samuel Thompson, a tourist from Manchester, England, sitting there with a glass of

masala chai

. “It’s like the crossroads, an ideal place to hang out in if you want to meet someone. Everyone passes in front of it.”



Do not hesitate to spend hours on just one cup of coffee. Tafuzzul,will not show any restlessness even if you buy no book. Instead, he may play your favourite Bollywood number.



“That is my favourite spot as well,” says Max, a Dutch photographer sitting inside the restaurant. “The view is vibrant, living and traditional. But people say that the road will be widened in preparation for the (2010) Commonwealth Games and all this will go.”


Hurry before it’s too late.