Being a bibliophile in India means that one is forever looking for good deals on books. The Daryaganj Sunday Book Market has been on my must-visit list for decades now. The idea of pavements filled to overflowing with books at throwaway prizes and being sold according to weight conjures such a picture of book-heaven in one’s mind that everything else pales in comparison. So, when we moved to Delhi this autumn, the first thing that I did before setting up house was to wait anxiously for Sunday and then force everyone else to accompany me to Daryaganj.
The Daryaganj book market takes place every Sunday on the pavements of the very old part of the city and is teeming, and I mean teeming, with youngsters looking for a good buy. This almost two kilometer stretch of pavement is filled choc-o-bloc with vendors selling all kinds of books from school books, to stationery to fiction to coffee table books and children’s picture books and comics. You must be good at bargaining though to get even better deals than the one being offered to you because that is just the Indian way.
Well, my impression was unfortunately not very favourable. After plopping the baby and Hubby and brother in the extremely convenient, if somewhat dingy, Café Coffee Day located just at the beginning of the market, I forged ahead with an empty bag and a spring in my step. To become drenched in sweat in literally two minutes in the heat. If you are someone like me who is not very good at handling heat, plan your trip in the winter months because it is not fun to be walking about in the sweltering sun and developing a headache that prevents you from deriving any enjoyment from your expedition.
After moving through that kilometer long stretch, the one conclusion that I reached was that this is a great haven for stationery seekers, which would be students mostly. I managed to get these really cute little diaries that make lovely gifts. There were lots of kids buying notebooks and spiral bound stuff and for some reason tons of scotch tape.
As for the amount of fiction books on display, it was certainly mind-boggling. But you need time –TIME. And lots and lots of PATIENCE. This was certainly not something that I enjoyed doing on a pavement, being jostled by the countless other buyers trying their best to get a good look at the wares, as well as making sure that nobody pinches your purse. The worst is the vendors who simply upend their books on the pavement in huge heaps. Trying to sort through them is a hopeless task and the sickening feeling always remains that the moment you give up digging through the pile, you may be leaving just your sort of book unturned.
The coffee table books for some reason were mostly about gardening. And some on architectural design. The art books were good, mostly collections of art by the greats, but really old and pretty expensive for the Sunday market. The comic section was almost non-existent the day that I happened to go to the market and the few that I found were way way too expensive. Or perhaps I just looked like a more likely person to fleece.
The children’s bookseller that I was most interested in had lots and lots of lovely books – on Christmas. Literally. That was the only stall where the proprietor actually seems to know what he is selling and will actually give you suggestions based on what you want. Like I said, I just chose a slow day to shop and the collections were not great anywhere. Still, I did manage to get a few books for my daughter, one of which she loved immensely.
Overall, the heat and the meagre collection of books the day I went shopping may have contributed to make the experience less than ideal for me but given a choice I don’t think I would like to go again. Having shopped in the wonderful, large, very methodical, open seven days a week from morning to evening Blossom Book Shop in Bangalore for the past few years, maybe I have become too spoiled. Or maybe I am just too old. I certainly prefer to shop in the quiet of the book corridors with the soft whirring of fans for company and a computer database to locate any particular book I may be looking for. I loved that shop and the Sunday market just made me want to pack my bags and rush to Bangalore just for experiencing that pleasure once again.
The Daryaganj book market will certainly be a great destination for youngsters and the similarly enthusiastic, with some really extraordinary editions for the extremely lucky. Going to Daryaganj is certainly an expedition and one must plan it accordingly, with lots of time on hand and a fierce determination to forge ahead despite any detriments that the weather, the crowds or the occasional pickpocket may throw your way.