Closure of Daryaganj book market evokes shock, outrage and nostalgia
Started in 1974 and known for the availability of rare titles at throwaway prices, the Sunday book bazar in Daryaganj was shut down following a recent Delhi High Court order to the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to ensure that weekly bazars on Sundays were not permitted on Netaji Subhash Marg.Updated: Aug 05, 2019, 12:58 IST
The Daryaganj footpath that usually teems with bibliophiles scouring rows of neatly laid-out books every Sunday looked forlorn. A few pedestrians, unaware of the shut-down of the 55-year-old Sunday Patri Kitab Bazar, dawdled. There was a group of booksellers and vendors huddled around a table, collecting signatures and anecdotes of dejected would-be buyers, informing everyone of their Twitter hashtag (#savebookbazardaryaganj), and discussing strategies to fight the shutdown.
Started in 1974 and known for the availability of rare titles at throwaway prices, the Sunday book bazar in Daryaganj was shut down following a recent Delhi High Court order to the North Delhi Municipal Corporation to ensure that weekly bazars on Sundays were not permitted on Netaji Subhash Marg.
August 4 was the second time in two weeks that the market was closed. The high court had issued the order on July 3 after the Delhi traffic police submitted a report to the court, stating the NS Marg was a very busy road with high traffic volume at all times, and that booksellers occupied the footpath, leaving no space for pedestrians.
The closing of the iconic book bazar, where over 200 booksellers used to put up their stalls on the pavement along Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road, starting from Daryaganj-Faiz bazar crossing to Delite Cinema every Sunday, has met with shock, outrage and an outpouring of nostalgia.
Author Rakshanda Jalil spoke of how she would go to the bazar all through her college years in the early and mid-80s. “It was a Sunday ritual. I knew exactly which guys had the good stuff they kept sort of hidden so you had to poke around,” she said.
The Sunday Patri Kitab Bazar at Daryaganj, shortened simply to “Daryaganj bazar”, was a haven for book-lovers, aspiring bureaucrats, engineers, doctors, book collectors and broke students. The founder of the Daryaganj Patri Sunday Book Bazar Welfare Association, KR Nanda, 83, said the bazar has been a permanent fixture in Delhiites’ lives— the ones born here and those who made the city their own.
“This is the seventh time in the bazar’s existence that we have been asked to shut shop and move from Daryaganj,” said Nanda, reeling off a list of names, such as Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit, Khushwant Singh and Ramachandra Guha, all of whom he and his fellow booksellers have sold books to, as he thumbed through a file of old newspaper cuttings documenting their struggle each time someone decided the market must go.
The last time, the bazar was closed for about five weeks in January 2018. Historian Ramachandra Guha had then written in the Hindustan Times about the previous attempts, mentioning, “in the 1990s, a citizens’ campaign that caught the ear of a sympathetic prime minister and saved the Daryaganj book bazar from closure”.
Guha also compared the bazar favourably to other popular book markets such as Kolkata’s College Street, Mumbai’s Flora Fountain, and Chennai’s Moore Market.
Nanda, recounting the earlier instances, added that this time the corporation officials have offered Ramlila Maidan and the parking lot of Delite Cinema as alternative sites, citing traffic. But the vendors were loathe to move.
“We operate one day of the week from 6am to 6pm. We only occupy half the footpath so that pedestrians have enough space to move. Exactly how do we contribute to traffic?” asked Subhash Chandra Agarwal, 78, former president, Daryaganj Patri Sunday Book Bazar Welfare Association.
“There is no written guarantee that we will not be hounded away from the new sites. Plus, Ramlila Maidan already hosts numerous rallies and events and Delite’s space will not be enough for 277 sellers,” said Agarwal.
Asif Khan Dehlvi, founder, Delhi Karavan, which organises literary walks and history-themed baithaks (soirees), said the bazar was part of Delhi’s heritage. “Delhi’s heritage is not just its buildings—it’s also the bazars.”
Khan also said that the bazar was not the only reason for traffic jams. “I’ve hosted several heritage walks through the Daryaganj bazar. Traffic has never been an issue,” he said.
Sunday ritual—two words that almost everyone who speaks of the bazar uses — includes Pradeep Kumar Saxena, Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters, Govt of India. “I heard about the market in 1988 from a friend when I first moved to Delhi. I was amazed to find all sorts of books there at affordable prices,” he said. Saxena was posted to Shimla a few years later, but made sure to buy books in bulk from Daryaganj for his two toddlers every time he came to the city. When Saxena transferred back to Delhi, trips to Daryaganj with his sons “became a Sunday ritual”. “From comic books to books on politics, Daryaganj has played a massive role in shaping my sons’ personalities as well as their passion for writing and reading,” he added.
Eager to save such a major part of his childhood, Praneet, Saxena’s son, now head of content at Hiration, a US-registered startup, has joined the signature campaign of the protesting booksellers.
In fact, students living as far off as Chennai, Tamil Nadu, are upset at the news. Mohit Kumar, research scholar at IIT Madras, said he was “devastated”. “I have picked up a lot of books from Daryaganj—my father had recommended the bazar to me,” he said. Closer home, students in Sonepat, Gurugram and Ghaziabad are worried about where to get affordable books, and are spreading the word and joining the signature campaign.
“The high court order is in response to the traffic congestion created by the kabadi bazar (scrap market) beyond the Golcha cinema,” said Sumit Verma, a vendor at Daryaganj. “Our writ petition is still pending in the court and will be heard in September. The corporation must not hound us out until the court verdict comes out. They’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.