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A Day in the Life of Delhi’s Sunday Book Market

Nearly four years in Delhi now, today, on May 28th 2023, I visited Delhi’s famous Sunday book market. The experience of treading through things to do books all around has been ecstatic.

With people everywhere—people standing in scorching heat; people selling zillion books; people flipping pages of age-old copies; people bargaining; people contemplating buying books; people trying to absorb exquisite seller’s knowledge; people on dates; people with their children, buying copies of J.K. Rawling and Aesop’s fables.

Daryaganj Book Market: An Overview

Initially, the Sunday book market operated in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj Sunday Patri Kitab Bazaar. The market was established in 1964 and continues to this day—except in a new place. It used to be located behind the Jama Masjid.

People would go early in the mornings to the old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area; eat the hot Chole Bature in Meghraj or at Kanvarji; then peak into the Daryaganj book market; eat their lunch in Aslam’s (if you haven’t tried their Butter Chicken, you should) or at Al Jawahar (if you liked Chicken Jahangiri), or at Haji Mohamad Hussain (for Fried Chicken), and then relish some Sheermal at Rehmatullah; and finally head over to Jama Masjid in the evening. An entire day if the energy sustains all through.

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The young and the adults looking through books at a stall in the Sunday book market in Delhi. Image: Adarsh Badri

From Daryaganj to Mahila Haat

Now the Sunday book market has found a new home in Mahila Haat, a distance from the Delhi Gate metro station. The market opens at 9 am and continues to operate till 6 pm.

The entry is free for everyone, unlike, say, Dilli Haat. What was once an organically grown book market has found itself a commercial spot. The crowd that is wooed to Mahila Haat comes with the intent—of buying books.

The market structure is aesthetically pleasing. The colourful covers tied across one another and the aesthetically pleasing bougainvillaea in the background provide a deeply enmeshed scenic pleasure. The new market is a visually vibrant and aesthetically pleasing book bazaar for bibliophiles.

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A bookseller looks on at Delhi’s Mahila Haat Sunday Book Market. Image: Adarsh Badri

Unlike the Khan market gangs of booksellers (like Bahrisons and Fakirchand), who have their esteemed legacies, the Sunday market is a true example of a bazaar—a South Asian book bazaar, so to say.

No one holds a monopoly here. Walk away from the bookseller, and he may even call you out, asking you to pay the price you would have bargained for. I have been told that books are insanely cheap, say Rs. 10. Even Golgappas cost you more than Rs. 10 in Delhi.

What To Expect in The Sunday Book Market

The booksellers at the Sunday market sell everything from history, photography, philosophy, poetry, literature, fiction and non-fiction, rare copies of collectors, and stationaries—for cheap. In recent times, the shifts have been apparent in terms of the collections the booksellers hold.

Nowadays, many booksellers prefer selling UPSC, Banking, CAT, GRE and other competitive exams’ notes and guides—because they sell quickly and in bulk. 

Among the sets of books I tread through today, I found old editions of the classics of Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, and Leo Tolstoy. The poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and the short stories of Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hasan Manto lay bare on the summer streets, awaiting a bibliophile to pick them up.

There was also a rare postal-stamp collection set, which the seller wanted to sell for a passionate collector for good money.

There were also Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutta, and Ravinder Singh-kinda cringe love novels (from the likes of Oh Yes I am Single, and So is My Girlfriend), which my 10th-grade appetite would have appreciated. All kinds of books—those which find homes in bookstores and those that are too glamorous for bookstores—find refuge in Delhi’s Sunday book market.

On Buying and Not Buying

The young and the older flock around the sellers’ stalls. While some want to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, others come with a camera to click pictures of the aesthetics of selling. I went to experience what it is like to surround books. And I am glad I was immersed in bookish rendezvous the whole day until the hunger, thirst, and Delhi’s scorching heat came uninvited.

As I straddled through tiny lanes with fellow book lovers, I purchased myself a brilliant photograph book titled India: A Celebration of Independence from 1947 to 1997 for about 350 Rupees.

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A bibliophile seeking refuge in books at the Sunday Book Market. Image: Adarsh Badri

The book contains photographs of India’s independence, to the Bombay galis and slums of 1995, a perfect ode to India’s 50 years in photographs.

The book contains Sunil Janah’s photographs of Mahatma Gandhi at a prayer meeting at Birla House, Bombay, in 1946 and Hindus and Muslims joining the flags of India and the soon-to-be Pakistan, in a gesture of friendship during the peace procession in Calcutta at the end of the communal riots, 1947, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Pandit Nehru with the Mountbattens outside Government House, Delhi, 1948, among others. This book will be helpful in some ways and at some stage of my PhD research.

A To-Do List for Sunday Book Market

The purpose of this post is not just to share my experience at the Sunday market but also to nudge you to visit it once—if you are in Delhi. For book lovers, it is a haven. Now, I have some practical tips for those visiting. Most of these are generic but essential.

You should go as early as you can. I suggest you reach Mahila Haat at 9 am to escape ever increasing Delhi heat quickly. There will be thousands of books, journals, and magazines to sift through. Therefore, you need to be strategic about how you go about visiting the place. You must carry a tote or regular paper bag to carry the books.

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The Seen and the Unseen at the Sunday Book Market. Image: Adarsh Badri

Bargain! We, Indians, survive on informal bazaar language. Our socialisation into Indian households makes us immune to bargaining—and therefore, you should bargain. Try and negotiate the best offer for you. Since most books are second-hand, they should not cost you over Rs. 100 if they are novels and English literary works.

Now, you will ultimately meet the fate of the Sun’s wrath in summer. There are several fruit juices, ganna-ka-juice (sugarcane juice), lemonade, and some chats, just outside the Mahila Haat. Grab them as soon as you step out of your shopping spree at Robinhood’s bookshelf.

If you have already visited the Sunday book market, do share your experiences in the comments below 🙂

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2 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of Delhi’s Sunday Book Market”

  1. Having discovered my love for books during Covid time and the long irresistible wait for book fair turning into a period full of anxiety, the visit to Sunday Book Bazaar Market was a great relief. One cannot take their eyes off the books for even a second, characterizing different genres. I cannot resist my self buying the bulks of them. What about you?
    And thanks for writing this. This write up made me revisit my last experience altogether. Feeling totally nostalgic.🌱

    1. I am glad that it has brought you amazing memories of your visit to the Sunday Book Market. In my case, I had not really known that book market was operational due to the confusions of shifts (from Daryaganz to Mahila Haat). I am glad I was able to visit the market. It has been wonderful, and worthwhile.

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