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Book hunting in Delhi? A guide
Raja Sen |
June 01, 2006
So you are in Delhi, and you want to buy books.
You've heard a lot about Delhi bookstores -- about how they rank better than those in other metros, how you can spend a lifetime browsing and craving, and how you'll end up finding obscure gems you never imagined existed.
Is this true? Yes, all of it.
But haphazardly running into the slickest bookshops isn't the answer -- unless you're looking for another copy of Dan Brown to gift that annoying nephew. You do need a bit of a helpful tap on the shoulder, a 'tried there, dear fellow' sort of a thing, which is where I come in.
So here goes. This is not a list of Delhi bookstores. For that, you'd look at those big books with yellow pages. This is a roughly yet lovingly cobbled ready reckoner, which talks about must-visit stores, where to find rarities and places to get them cheaper. Leap in and have fun.
Fact & Fiction
In the middle of one of the city's youngest and most frantic markets, and right across the Priya Cinema ticket counter stands the tiny Fact & Fiction. You squeeze into the store and are stunned by the sudden silence. The books are stacked up neatly, and thankfully not sub-categorised maddeningly. Mostly everything seems interesting and not overfamiliar, and while the obligatory new releases line a shelf, the owner won't let you go astray. And he's what makes the store special.
Almost as strict a disciplinarian as the soup nazi, this man knows his reads amazingly well. You name an author, he parries with another. He suggests titles and actually dissuades purchases (gotta love that), and a long conversation with him is always fun.
Your first stop to hunt for rarities, if he doesn't have it he'll point you in the right direction, never fear. The store has a fine graphic novel section, and a wall-full of incredible music/movies books. You can't talk too loud or ask the bespectacled gent silly questions, but this is the quintessential tiny special bookstore.
39, Basant Lok Market, Vasant Vihar
Midland Book Shop
Ah, now this chain you need to spend some time on. The books here aren't wonderfully categorised (to say the least) and the managers often woefully mispronounce names of authors in classic Delhi fashion.
Yet there are some rare novellas to be found among the chaotic arrangements, but that is not the best part. The store has a blanket 20 percent discount on all purchases, and that helps tremendously, even if their collection is a bit of a me-too. An ideal place to pick up books you saw elsewhere for cheap, you do end up unearthing something special if you spend long enough in the debris.
The Aurobindo Market branch seems to stock more interesting reads, and a friend claims the owner randomly factors in additional discounts if he likes your smile.
*G-8, (Basement), South Extension-I
*20, Aurobindo Place Market, Hauz Khas
*Janpath, Connaught Place
A long-standing Delhi chain, Bookworm stocks an eclectic range of popular titles and hard to find editions. Curious novels rub shoulders with paperbacks, but the circular stall in Connaught Place is a definite must-browse, and while the crowds can get maddening, you are likely to emerge with a semi-heavy plastic bag in hand, wearing the proud smile of a triumphant explorer. Just don't go hunting for books in particular, and you won't be disappointed.
*B-29, Inner Circle, Connaught Place
*M-Block Market, GK-I
Om Book Shop
At first glance, a pleasant none-too-special set of large, sprawling populist bookstores, the Om shops have the habit of springing surprises from time to time. Like Midland, these folks often entice you with some fabulous discounts.
The thing with the Om guys is that they buy up warehouses with books already in them, and while this is admittedly an indiscriminate way of going about things, the said stocks of books dominate their shelves for much cheaper, and before you know it, something quite special is up on sale for a price you can't believe. Just spend an hour there, will you?
*E-77, South Extension-I
*45, Basant Lok Market, Vasant Vihar
*G 13-16, MGF, Metropolitan Mall, DLF, Gurgaon
What's to say, it's an Oxford. Yes, but honestly not bad at all, by Oxford standards. There's a wide-enough selection of books, especially if you're in the market for hard-to-find science fiction.
Things are neat and orderly, and people generally know what you're talking about. A decent bookstore to visit if you're in a hurry and open (okay, let's say very open) to a surprise purchase, instead of sticking to one particular obscure volume.
Statesman House, First Floor, 148, Barakhamba Road
Located in GK (Greater Kailash)'s lesser-frequented market, this one offers peace and quiet despite a large and comfortable size, and while chances are you've read a lot of the books on offer, they're still offered in style.
In fact, this just might be one of the city's best shops to buy presents. You'll find shiny new editions with cool covers as well as sincere-looking older versions, leather-bound coffee-table books, big hardcover tomes on ancient and colonial India (a surprisingly splendid range), and lots of neatly repackaged classics.
N-8, N-Block Market, Greater Kailash-I
Sunday Book Market
Ah, the charm of the flea market. Except the weekly bazaar in normally far-flung Daryaganj is far too well-organised to be called that. With a startling attention to detail, the books are categorised helpfully into separate sections, like Academic, Fiction and even Genre Fiction!
Your Sidney Sheldon and your Zadie Smith won't rub shoulders, and the fact that the stall-keepers have been doing this for ages means you're certainly going to unearth some incredible second-hand finds.
While the bazaar is open till about 5.30 pm, knowledgeable friends assure me that 7am to 9 am is the slot when the best deals are struck. It is somewhat like Mumbai's finest bookstalls but clustered together into a large and legal collective, laced with a bit of an enthused, festival feel. Complete with old-world cuisine and Delhi at its most charming. Go here.
1.5 km stretch near Golcha Cinema, Daryaganj
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