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Delhiwale: A bookshop’s secret stack

Deep inside the belly of Paharganj is a room where thousands of priceless books are kept under lock and key

delhi Updated: Aug 03, 2017 12:15 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Jackson’s Bookshop in Paharganj.
Jackson’s Bookshop in Paharganj. (Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

For young people in our city, there sometimes comes a phase when, all of a sudden, nothing seems more urgent than escaping the place they live in. A lot of them then head towards Paharganj, the backpackers’ haven near New Delhi railway station. Life feels romantic as you sit at tables next to long-haired foreign tourists with exotic tattoos and body piercings.

Many of us Paharganj flaneurs, young and not so young, also weave myths around our favourite cafés. And some of us, the happy few, often mention in hushed voices a roadside shack that — between us — happens to be one of Delhi’s best secondhand bookstores.

We mean Jackson’s Bookshop, in the main bazaar.

The real secret of the place is that the bookstore’s biggest selection of books lie in a long and narrow room tucked inside a nearby alley. It is always locked. The owner opens it on request and leaves you all by yourself, incredulous, with thousands of his precious books.

One may spend an entire day here amid a wide range of paperbacks left behind by backpackers over the years — from Wilbur Smith to John Updike, from Buddha to Aurobindo, from mountaineering literature to poetry anthologies. Once we got a book on Ladakh stamped with the name of a bookstore in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

A few shelves are devoted to books in French, Dutch, German, and Swedish. Japanese-language books are piled up inside sacks.

Besides our love for books, the other significant pleasure of lounging in this place is the thrill that so few know of its existence. Really, we ought to have kept it a secret.