The boutique bookstore today is ostensibly a relic of a bygone age. The breakneck pace at which people live their lives, rushing to and from work, constantly engaged in activity that will improve their station in life leaves little time to sit down with a book and a cup of coffee and lose yourself to the cadence of a writer's words on a page. But there happens to be just such an anachronism buried in the unsuspecting gullies of Shadi Khampur in west Delhi. The area of Shadi Khampur is a typical Delhi suburb; rickshaws perilously bob and weave around cows that crowd the narrow lanes, flyers printed on coloured A4 sheets that advertise ‘Boys PGs’ and ‘Spoken English Classes’ populate every telephone pole, but amidst this stereotype lies conspicuously, the May Day Bookstore and Cafe.
The name of the bookstore, marking the day it was founded in 2012, celebrates International Workers Day, an homage to the working class. This sensibility extends to what rests on the store’s shelves. The only left-leaning bookstore in the country, May Day’s catalogue features literature from a wide variety of society. Books from the LGBTQ community, books about Dalit rights, and other marginalised or vulnerable groups can be found here, as well as work in a variety of mediums, such as graphic novels or Young Adult books all of which are celebrated through book launches, discussions, and other events. Many of these are not easily available in other stores, or even online.
Look out for books published by smaller publishing houses, such as Adivaani, an archiving and publication organisation that represents the interest of writers and readers of India’s indegenious adivasi community.
In addition to this carefully curated collection of books, the store also sells curios such as wooden stamps and tote bags that capture the aesthetics and ideas behind their leftist, inclusive ideology.
Sudhanva Deshpande, the director of the cafe, is mindful of the need for boutique bookstores. What he described as, “the thrill of accidental discovery” in an interview with Scroll.in, is precisely what has been lost in today’s industrialised book market. Perusing an eclectic shelf to find a gem can only be experienced in such a setting. With an ever-expanding collection, Deshpande seeks to diversify his catalogue and encourage diverse sets of people to visit his store and exchange ideas.
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But the cafe is not restricted to literature; it also houses a stage which doubles as a space for local performers to share their craft in regular events hosted there.
The Kathputli colony, home to a variety of Delhi’s street performers, is located near the bookstore, and May Day offers them a space to put on shows as well as a salon to discuss and exchange ideas. Performances ranging from talks to street plays are regularly put on at the cafe, where entry is ‘pay what you like.’
Rickshaw drivers at the Shadipur Metro station are very familiar with May Day, which they know as ‘bayaasi number’ (number 82.) When the store was being set up in 2012, local rickshaw drivers were pulled in to help and now hold an open invitation to any of the cafe’s performances free of charge, and at liberty to leave when they want. They are encouraged to drop in even for a drink of water, an especially useful service in Delhi’s unforgiving summer months.
A Small Business for Small Businesses
The community feeling the cafe seeks to foster extends to the small business in the locality. A small dairy is present next to the bookstore for patrons to grab a refreshing glass of lassi to beat the heat. Moreover, all their events are catered by Rupa-ji, the neighbourhood samosa salesman. The importance of local business to protect the interests of the most vulnerable in our society becomes more and more evident by the day, and thus the community integration that May Day has achieved is perhaps the most endearing aspect of the charming little bookstore.
To celebrate their establishment, a special event is held on the 1st of May every year which features prominent historians, writers, theatre actors and more who conduct sessions that involve the community. Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean has performed at this event every year since its inception.
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This year, due to the coronavirus lockdown, May Day Cafe has arranged for an online celebration of their anniversary, which will feature leftist personalities from across the world, including legendary member of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters. The event will take place from 1:30 PM on Labour Day and can be joined on their website.