Tale Trails: Street-side Sunday Surprise at Daryaganj, Delhi

When Edward Spenser wrote his epic poem The Faerie Queene celebrating the Tudor Dynasty and Elizabeth I, little could he have imagined that more than 400 years later the monetary worth of his words would be tested by a weighing contraption installed in Delhi.

At 0.82 kgs, Spenser’s allegorical masterpiece exchanges hands at Rs. 180. Meanwhile, a student laments at not having located Homer in the ‘Classic Novel at Rs. 200’ pile while another is contemplating picking up Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy.

Jostling amidst book hungry crowds at the weekly market in Daryaganj is a treat every Delhi dweller and city traveller must partake in. Stretching for nearly two kilometres on Asaf Ali Road is a pavement full of the most eclectic collection of books you’d find anywhere. From a 1942 Yugoslavian edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues to Monet’s letters, Premchand’s Complete Works or a tattered Jackie Collins paperback, this Sunday book market is certainly for everyone. Whether your vocation or interests lie in art, architecture, design, food, medicine or comics, you’ll find that strolling through the narrow pathway lining the book-display is a wonderful way to start your Sunday.

Prices differ based on discounts over printed rates, fixed weight-based calculations or simply grab-as-you-go short change (Rs. 10 for second hand P.D. James for instance). And all of these remain at the discretion of the shopkeeper. Even if you’ve spotted a nearly new hardbound copy of Victor Hugo’s Complete Works, it is unwise to display the gleam in your eyes. Bargaining would become that much more difficult. Instead it’s advisable to leisurely pick up the desired copy, turn it around, flip through its pages (even as your heart continues to flutter ever so much) and then nonchalantly ask for the best price. It may also do well to carry a bag along to fill all your goodies in. Books within reach that are not bought for seemingly avoidable reasons are what bibliophile nightmares are made of.

Having begun in the 1960s, the Daryaganj Book Bazaar has lived through decades of changes the city has witnessed. The book market has retained its charm among students, academics, collectors and travellers ever eager to dive hand-first in search of a treasure. There are those who flock here as a Sunday morning ritual and others who’re crossing it off the list of things to do in the city. Either way, the activity promises a Sunday morning well spent. And one that is likely to end in unparalleled joy at having found a gem you weren’t even searching for.

– by Manika Dhama

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