Old Delhi’s Daryaganj Sunday Book Market, in all its variety and serendipity is diminishing by the day. A paradise for all book-lovers and artists, it has become integrated into Delhi’s rich cultural fabric to an extent where it echoes the multi-faceted magical reality of the city.
Delhi has been one of the most culturally-extravagant cities of India for as long as its establishment can be traced. It has seen humans rise and fall, it has been a witness to power changing hands, and it has been adorned and looted, adorned and looted, again and again, and again. Today the city stands, being loved by some, loathed by some and all its grandeur ignored by the others. It incorporates in itself remnants of a glorious, tumultuous past that seems ugly to many and mystical to many, a charged and confused present that seems normal to some and fatal to the others and a veiled future that holds different hopes for different thinkers, hopes that are contradictory in its very basis. Constructed with these overlapping paradoxes, it has charmed poets, aspirants, tycoons, artists and all kinds of people alike.
A microcosm of Delhi and its comforting complexities is the Daryaganj Sunday Book Market that started growing out around 1964 in the walled city of Shahjahanabad. Numerous shreds of evidence suggest that the market has been around since the time of the Mughal Empire. Recently, the L-shaped market on the sidewalks of Netaji Subhash Marg and Asif Ali Road came to an end with the Delhi High Court’s order dated July 3, 2019. As a result of the protests against the termination of the market by local vendors, activists, and students, the market has now been relocated to Mahila Haat. It cannot be said whether this change makes things better or worse, but it is definite that the change is much more than just physical.
The numerous relocations of the market in itself are a mirror to the changing dynasties and dimensions of the city in which it is placed. The number of ways in which this small space reflects the larger city that it is a part of, combined with the realisation that it might be lost to the coming generations is almost unnerving. Our generation is the one that has witnessed this diminishing change to a space that was the paradise of book-lovers and explorers of culture. Unfortunately, the generation after ours will not have the pleasure of walking on the sidewalks of the L-shaped market, unless of course it is restored.
The Sunday Book Market is a regular visiting place for a variety of people. There will be experts and novices, regular visitors and accidental ones, bibliophiles and IAS aspirants, students and professors, doctors and writers, photographers and painters, collectors and observers, and dreamers and achievers. This wide range of customers is a result of the wide range of books or vice versa. From rare publications of literature classics to critical editions of those classics, from NCERT textbooks to books for legal studies, from collections of Urdu shayari to vintage Bollywood magazines, from books for preparation of Civil Services’ exam to anthologies of short stories and poetry, the market has representation from all spaces of life and language. Furthermore, the diversity is as visible in the sellers as it is in the buyers. They could be in the job due to their passion, or their circumstances, as an extension of their family’s occupation or simply by chance.
“Patri Kitab Bazar, like any other place in Delhi, comprises of people who either do or aspire to belong to this city. The vendors who have been selling books inside this market arrived here ‘by chance’, as do the readers. Until they keep revisiting again and again, and give this market a semblance of permanence. Daryaganj Book Market is a part of Daryaganj, Old Delhi, and Delhi, as it keeps reappearing every Sunday. It exemplifies the serendipity that Delhi is made up of. The heterogeneous make-shift structure of this book market, in a way, is a miniature model of all that this city has been, and can be. If Delhi is many things, so is this market. As you stand at Delhi Gate on a Sunday, you see parts of colonial, Mughal, and modern architecture and culture (con)fused into one another. Daryaganj Sunday Book Market combines the age-old culture of a bazaar and the modern capitalist desire of owning a slice of the city – even if it is a hand-me-down, or a duplicate,” says Kanupriya Dhingra, whose current research on Book History and Print Culture from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London engages with the parallel book markets of Old Delhi.
The Daryaganj Sunday Book Market is so much more than a market. It is a space that serves as a medium to the past of the city that it is located in, both physically through its location and metaphorically, through the stories that its books and booksellers have to tell. Moreover, fragments of this space make up building blocks for A’s personal library and B’s future job. Similarly, some books that you find here could be more than mere books. They might have been C’s gift to their beloved D or a book that would put E to sleep every day.
Alfisha Sabri is a student pursuing Literature from University of Delhi.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.