Mohammad Waseudin sits under the shade of bougainvillaea flowers and waits for customers to come. Under the shade of pink flowers, he clears dust off from the books. It is a Sunday morning, and he is hopeful that he will sell as many books as he can depending upon the buzz of customers.
Like many vendors setting up their bookstalls, Waseudin also puts books in front of his little stall; first looking at them, and then placing them in the right sequence. He has been in the book business since childhood.
“First I used to work with my father, but since he died, I have been working alone,” he says. “My brother is also in the business.”
Two years back, he remembers, he used to set his stall of books on the premises of the Post Office in Daryagang- an iconic, and historic place in Old Delhi- famous for the Sunday Kitaab Bazaar. In a landmark move Delhi High Court in July 2019, ordered the market to be shut down after Delhi Police submitted its report about the pavement being used by the vendors and the concerns that it raised in the traffic management. The North Municipal Corporation (NDMC) followed the order and closed the market which had been running for decades. Soon after the protests of vendors, it was relocated to a new place- Mahila Haat in the famous Chandni Chowk.
Soon after its relocation, as the vendors were trying to set their usual business in the new setting of the Mahila Haat, a pandemic hit the world. India was locked down, and so was the Sunday Book Bazaar. Vendors were hit badly. After remaining shut for several months, it was re-opened with a smaller number of vendors returning to business.
Now in 2021, as India is slowly healing from the pandemic, the Book Bazaar is also trying to revive its old buzz.
Among many vendors, Mohammed Waseudin, who lives in the Delhi-6 area, is trying to revive his old business.
“The pandemic has disturbed everything, and this space (Mahila Haat) is very little for the vendors to adjust. There is no shelter. What will happen if it rains? There is no drainage system,” he says.
There are many books in his stall- Hindi poetry, English novels, photography books and others. Whenever someone passes by his stall, he stands and greets them, saying ‘Sirji’ ‘Madam Ji.’
He collects books from different stands all through six days and puts them on sale on Sunday. He can’t remember the number of customers that visit him on Sundays.
Before lockdown, he says, the business was exceptionally good, especially at his previous place where he used to set up his stall. He remembers one day when he had made a sale of 10,000 that day. But now the business is usually down. “It barely meets our needs,” he says.
Just a few meters away from his stall, Waseudin’s nephew also has his stall of books. Mohammed Kaif, who studies in class tenth, is one of the youngest booksellers. He has fewer books than his uncle in his stall and likes reading novels if he gets time.
In the lockdown, small businesses were hit badly; among them were vendors who were dependent on their days’ earnings. But in the case of book vendors who used to set their business only on Sundays, the situation was even worse.
Now with many book vendors who disappeared completely- first due to the relocation and then lockdown- only some have turned up again to stabilise their business. Almost every book vendor shares a feeling of hopelessness. There is also a little crowd to attract.
Sitting on the stack of notebooks, Anshul bargains with a customer. He is eighteen years old studying in class 10th and belongs to district Kannauj of the state Uttar Pradesh. He is the eldest of two other siblings. He has been living in Delhi for seven years after his family migrated to Ghazipur village of Delhi.
Anshul’s father is a factory worker, and his mother, a homemaker. Due to the existing poverty in the family, Anshul started to sell books and accessories in Delhi to manage his school, and coaching fee. But it remains his “part-time job.”
He comes to Book Bazaar on Sundays in the Mahila Haat to sell his accessories which include notebooks, pens, pencils, markers and some books at highly cheap rates. Despite such cheap rates, customers try to persuade him with their own rates. He also picks books for himself from the Sunday Book Market to study.
When asked about how is the business going after the pandemic, he says smilingly, “It’s just working.”
Before the lockdown and its relocation to the new place, the market would open up early morning on Sundays. Vendors used to set up their stalls of books before the buyers would turn up. It was like a fair.
Now, things have changed. Held up in a closed space of Mahila Haat, the Sunday Book Bazaar has no definite timing of opening or closing now. Sometimes it opens up early, and many times it opens up late. Vendors have to wait to get in, and there is not enough space to move freely. The crowd is not as huge as it used to be before; so the vendors complain.
As the sun in the sky becomes warmer, the crowd of book lovers multiplies. A warm breeze blows, shaking the pile of books. People from all age groups- men, women, students, children accompanying their parents- wearing masks can be seen looking at books, trying to make their way through the crowd from one vendor to the next.
Girish Giri is also a book vendor whose business was hit by the pandemic. He has been in the book business for 20 years, and belongs to Ballia district of the state Uttar Pradesh. He now lives in Delhi with his small family.
“Our business has been badly affected due to the pandemic. The situation is not altogether the same. There was a huge sale of books before the pandemic, and now there are not enough customers,” he says.
First Girish used to set his stall at Daryagang road in Old Delhi but now he occupies a little space in the Mahila Haat, near the park. He also brings his little son on Sundays to his stall because he gets ‘bored’ at home.
“I want to educate my children because if you’re not educated in this city, your survival is really hard,” Girish says.
There are many people who have been coming to the Sunday Book Market to buy books. One such book lover is Prabeer Kumar Ghosh, a retired government officer. He has been into reading since childhood and has been coming to Book Bazaar for many years now. He has also set up a library at his home and when he purchases new books from the market; he then adds them to his library.
“This is our worthy treasure,” he says, pointing toward books, “People need to think about it. I love reading, and especially this place- I love it too.”
While many book vendors are hopeless about reviving things despite people purchasing books from online stores and reading online or on Kindle, some are still hopeful. At the nook of the Mahila Haat compound, Vasudev Panth, an old-aged man, sits in front of his books with his brother Anil Kumar. They have come for the first time to this new space of Mahila Haat with only a handful of books. It is their “first Sunday.”
Vasudev Panth seems to have in-depth knowledge about the changing times which concern his business. “Capitalism has destroyed everyone,” he says. Adding to that, he says, “When the books began to sell online, most offline businesses were destroyed.”
Before relocation, the two brothers used to sell books on Asaf Ali road in the old setting of Sunday Book Bazaar. Now in a completely different space, Vasudev Panth is hopeful that their business will be once again back on track.
“It will take time but there will be customers,” he says. “The crowd will turn up with time.”
As the sun in the sky disappears slowly toward the west, the crowd begins to recede. Silence prevails slowly amid the noise of traffic. The book vendors start to collect their books and prepare to leave- hoping to come again next Sunday.