It is the third Sunday in a row that the popular Sunday Book Bazaar, still remembered as Daryaganj, will be missed by bibliophiles. A former haven not just for students but also for readers of all ages, this weekly market is the perfect place to spot or hoard anything from textbooks and novels to magazines, diaries or planners; that too at ridiculous prices. But with weekend curfew restrictions in the capital, the 276 booksellers in this bazaar say they have no hope of reviving their business.
Irshad, a bookseller who comes from Lakdi market, near Welcome metro station, to set up his stall in this bazaar, shares: “Hum har hafte ₹2,000 to 2,500 kama lete the bazaar se. Isse ghar ka kharcha nikal jata tha. Ab sab thapp hai. I hope normal ki jaldi ho jaye sab warna pata nahi ghar kaise chalayenge.
The weekly bazaar had been moved from the pavements of Old Delhi to Mahila Haat on Asaf Ali Road in 2019, and somehow operated until the pandemic hit. “For many months after the start of the pandemic in March-April 2020, the bazaar was only operational from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Meanwhile, we lost the morning influx of readers, jo subah subah aate the. Then it had only been operating normally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for just a month, just when the weekend curfew dealt a blow to our businesses,” says Kamar Saeed, Head of the Darya Ganj Patri Sunday Book Bazar Welfare association. Highlighting the significant losses for most sellers, Saeed informs that they are considering applying for financial assistance.
“The Book Bazaar is the only dedicated book market in the region, and we are proud to have contributed to the taleem (education) of Delhi’s students. We only have one weekday to spare and with the weekend curfew going on, this avenue is also closed. It is necessary to put restrictions in place to curb the spread of Covid, but it is unfortunate that it affects so many small sellers financially,” Saeed believes.
Other booksellers say that with each passing weekend, it will be a big challenge for them to last beyond a few weeks. “In case the Covid situation does not normalize soon, we plan to write letters to the authorities to explain our fate. Madad ki guhaar lagayenge. It would be a big help if any section of society could come and help us,” Saeed said. And Asharafi Lal Verma, vice-president of the association, added: “More than 200 vendors live from day to day, week to week. They collect books for six days and then wait to sell them on Sunday. It is not possible to move the bazaar to another day of the week or to sell the books online. We plan to appeal to the authorities and the general public to support us financially, through our website and through an NGO Seva Bharati, which recently distributed dry rations to us.
Residents who are regulars in this market are also saddened by the plight of the vendors. “This is where I got all the exam-related books I needed, also in pretty good condition and only 30% off the printed price! I couldn’t have passed my exams if I hadn’t gotten the books here at such a low price,” says Prasu Jain, who recently passed his exam and is now a statistics professional. And Meenu Rawat, a development practitioner at a non-profit organization who usually buys self-help books and academic books from this marketplace, adds, “This marketplace has excited me and compelled me to visit because of my love for books. It’s heaven on earth for book lovers, and in my opinion it shouldn’t be closed, or the condition of the sellers will get worse. I know there is a risk due to the pandemic, but if buyers and sellers both take safety precautions and entry is limited, then we can continue to enjoy the books here risk-free for public health.
Jain adds: “It should be made compulsory to produce a vaccination certificate, for both buyers and sellers. But this part of Delhi’s culture, history and literary tradition should not go away!
Author tweets @siddhijainn
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