With a hunger for books (and Phantom comics) since my childhood, developed by the likes of Hobby Corner, Soochna Kendra and British Library, Lucknow, my fascination for the printed stuff, with its delicious aroma and ability to take me off to far-off places and times, continued in later life too. But priorities changed, cities changed, availabilities changed. So let me describe my experiences in some other cities of India. It may serve as a guide to book-lovers who visit these places at some point of time. Of course, since my ramblings are spread over a considerable period of time, it’s possible that the places / availability I describe no longer exist presently. And of course, other, better outlets may also exist. I describe my own experiences.. not a Google Directions search. The focus is mainly on second-hand books.
Lucknow: Other than the outlets being discussed all the time, a pavement seller in the Central Bank Building, Hazratganj, and a shack in the Capitol Building do keep gems sometimes. Once I picked up a huge lot of comics from the CBI Building seller.
Delhi: The much publicized Daryaganj Sunday market is a haven, but one should have the patience, dedication and money to squander in here. Booklovers swoop in early, and grab their poison, even while the sellers are opening their gunny bags and cartons. The stuff displayed on the pavement later on, is for the not-so-well-informed or connected. By connection, I mean readers have their connections with the sellers, and much stuff does not reach the pavement at all, being ‘reserved’ for a particular long-time customer. Other than this, a pavement kiosk in Janpath Market (surrounded by sellers of counterfeit jeans and tees) is recommended. The rounded all-glass shop, opp. Indian Oil Bhavan, Janpath, is also good. It used to be better in the past. Pavement book sellers in Parliament Street (Regal Building), CP, were uprooted sometime ago. They were a good option.
Calcutta (Kolkata): Another much publicized, overrated market is College Street. More of college books, less of light reading, unhealthy bargaining and a not-so-very pleasant experience. Language issues might be there (not for me though), for non-Bengali speaking customers. More gems can be found in New Market area, especially Mirza Ghalib Street (Free School Street). Area opposite Jadavpur University gate also has good bookshops.
Madras (Chennai): Not many options. Mount Road (Anna Salai) had some good pavement sellers. These have been mostly uprooted now. Try Parry’s area. I have been informed that Poonamallee High Road has some interesting bookshops, but I have no personal experience.
Bangalore (Bengaluru): Explore MG Road / Brigade Road area. The famous Higgenbotham exists here. Book World in Kemp Gowda Road is awesome (for new books only). Upparpet is a good bet.
Bombay (Mumbai): The pavement booksellers in and around Flora Fountain (Kala Ghoda) and Fort have been dispersed long ago. But they re-appear with amazing persistence. Mahim is a good bet, but one has to ask around. Other areas of promise include Kalba Devi, Bandra and Andheri (W). Being huge areas, better get your logistics clear before-hand before venturing forth. King’s Circle, Matunga is dotted with booksellers, selling books and magazines from footpaths and tiny shacks.
Hyderabad: A second hand book market is permanently located near the boundary wall of the Osmania Medical College at Koti. Walk down the entire Abid’s Road, and you will come across makeshift shops selling second hand books in kiosks, pavements etc. Turn towards Koti (via Troop Bazaar), and explore Koti area. There is a Sunday book market at Abid’s, or so I have been informed. But I have not explored it in person.
Poona (Pune): Manney’s (Clover Center, Camp), is a traditional-type book store in Pune. Shivaji Nagar Market has books sellers operating from pavements and shacks.
Chandigarh: There used to be a vast second-hand book market opposite the Punjab University Gate, but I am not sure whether it still exists or not.
Allahabad: There used to be a Universal Book Shop in Civil Lines area, but its been eons since I last went there. Old Chowk area also used to have hole-in-the-wall bookshops, but again, I am out of touch with that area.
Nainital: There is a second hand bookshop mid-way in Mall Road, which has a rather good collection, if a somewhat cynical attitude. I don’t blame the shopkeeper though, perhaps tourists of all hues walking in and bargaining, without buying anything has made him this way. But I could be wrong.. perhaps he was born that way..
Nagpur: Explore the vast Seeta Berdi area. If you are lucky, you may come across something of interest. Ambazari is another good bet.
Ranchi: There are several bookshops down the entire stretch of Main Road (MG Road), from Firayalal Chowk to Sujata Chowk, including the now tottering: Good Books. There was a time when Good Books was a favorite of the ho-polloi of the city. A hole-in-the-wall shop, behind Urdu Library, Main Road, has an impressive collection of old books and comics. An impressive second hand book market starts from Karbala Chowk (the Muslim quarter) and ends near Albert College, a Christian seminary. This market proudly boasts of a huge range of college books, engineering and medical text books, fiction, and comics. Pretty impressive, if one can ignore the sordid surroundings.
A second-hand Bookshop
The sunlight filters through the panes
Of book-shop windows, pockmarked grey
By years of grimy city rains,
And falls in mild, dust-laden ray
Across the stock, in shelf and stack,
Of this old bookshop-man who brought,
To a shabby shop in a cul-de-sac,
Three hundred years of print and thought.
Like a cloak hangs the bookshop smell,
Soothing, unique and reminding:
The book-collector knows its spell,
Subtle hints of books and binding
In the fine, black bookshop dust
Paper, printer’s-ink and leather,
Binder’s-glue and paper-rust
And time, all mixed together.
`Blake’s Poems, Sir-ah, yes, I know,
Bohn did it in the old black binding,
In ’83.’ Then shuffles slow
To scan his shelves, intent on finding
This book of songs he has not heard,
With that deaf searcher’s hopeful frown
Who knows the nightingale a bird
With feathers grey and reddish-brown.
– John Arlott