Misfortune struck every bibliophile’s Sunday plans when the Daryaganj book market was shut down in the first week of August; accused of causing traffic jams. A ban on hawkers was introduced by the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) in the area. Finally, post a lull of approximately two months, the beloved bazaar has found a new temporary house at the Mahila Haat compound right across the street on Asaf Ali road. A large open air space, the lot has been neatly divided into allocated spaces with dark yellow paint adjacent to spacious corridors for the large crowds drawn by the market.
“We are glad to continue sales here. The earlier location would clog the streets with traffic and invite pickpockets. Not only is this new place cleaner, but also has facilities like toilets, parking and food stalls,”said Kamar Saeed, sitting cross-legged amidst bulky educational books spread across the 6x4 feet allocation. According to sources, Saeed recently quit as the ex-president of Daryaganj Patri Sunday Book Bazaar Welfare Association.
A 60-year-old setup, the book market has been every book lover and student’s go-to outlet for entertaining novels and educational material at a penny-pinching cost. With the change in location, regular customers seem to have trouble navigating the new order of the market. “We have been coming to this market for 4 years now. Earlier, we could hop off the bus at the market and also knew exactly where to go for a particular kind of book, but now it’s a whole new space to figure out. Nevertheless, the new space offers more than the earlier sidewalk and we will reach anywhere as long as they have books,” exclaimed Zaid, a class 11 student tucked under the shade of a tiny gazebo.
Though the new location is only two weeks old, the crowd began to thicken in an hour’s time. Another buyer Mukhesh, skipped from one vendor to another, hauling bundles of books in his arms. “I am a book fair organiser, so I have been coming down for books for years now. This is undoubtedly a better space. The government has realised the importance of the market and thus, helped them out. Though the arrangement is temporary, I am sure the government will continue to cater to the market's needs," he said, balancing the tied-up stack under his arm.
While most people are satisfied with the change (some first-time customers more aware of the bazaar’s existence due to recent news coverage), there are still a handful of people still rather skeptical of the change. Strolling around his goods, vendor Jitendar Mishra spoke his mind regarding the update. “We have been there for years; generation after generation taking over the trade. Everyone had their specific spots and the crowd knew exactly where to come for their needs. But it’s alright here too, it’s only been a couple of weeks so the crowds are expected to increase in number,” he said.
Files of people began trickling into the brand new venue, but what was the situation on the other side of the shore? Surprisingly - or maybe not- the original location has not been deserted by all sellers. Behind the Delhi Gate metro station, a handful of vendors had sprawled out their books, ready for a sale. “We have been here for nearly 20-25 years now, the market itself is a lot older. The new place is vulnerable to rain and can ruin our goods. Additionally, they will only let us settle there for 2 years and then make us move again; there is no point shifting there. We will deal with the authorities when they ask us to leave,” said vendor Dukhna, firmly standing beside another vendor at the old location. “We will arrange for tarps and umbrellas if we anticipate showers,” said Saeed in response to the statement.
While many people might hold concern over the 2 year lease, some think it is a win-win situation for both parties. “This ground in the 60s and 70s was a parking lot for backpackers, then a Ram Leela ground; but none of those plans worked. I think this is a good move because it utilizes the space well and in return, the vendors also don’t get turfed off. To top it off, since it is on a Sunday, work traffic will not be affected by this. And it doesn’t matter that it is only for 2 years, there is a loyal customer base that’ll reach anywhere for the books,” said Ranee Sahaney, an avid reader who has been scouting the market since her days in college. “What people also don’t know is that many vendors have shifted from the street to permanent stores on the same road and are unaffected by the move. You can access these stores throughout the week that’ll give you rare finds for the same price as the street vendors,” she adds.
A court hearing is scheduled on September 25 to decide the fate of the market and the location. No matter what the outcome, one can agree that the popularity of the bazaar will draw crowds to any corner of the capital.