This ‘secret’ bookstore in Daryaganj is a bibliophile’s paradise

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New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) For those interested in literature, it is a trip down memory lane — Shakespeare, Shelly, Keats and Dickens — at this pristine book agency on the famed Daryaganj road in the national capital, which gets transformed into a book lane on Sunday mornings.

Mukta Book Agency is a book lover’s paradise, home to old and rare titles. It is here that some of the earliest editions of books and plays like “Macbeth”, “Twelfth Knight”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “A Tale of Two Cities”, among others, can be found.

Step in and look around. Shakespeare is placed next to his contemporary Marlowe; Georgian author Jane Austen is seen lying next to poets P.B. Shelley and John Keats, and so are Victorian authors Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte.

On other few tables the works of authors like Paulo Coelho, Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Mark Twain, Cecilia Ahern, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle remain scattered.

The pages, with fragile hard-cover binding mostly in black and dark brown or earth colour, have turned pale, some have lost colour but they continue to carry a hypnotising aroma.

A climb up the narrow stairway of the shop will lead to a large hall – the lights dim, the atmosphere grim — quite unlike the bookshops we are generally accustomed to.

The amalgamation of a strange smell emanating from old books and damp ceilings welcomes you to the space that belongs to Ramesh Ojha, owner of the book agency who runs the family business along with his brother Rajesh. It has now been 50 years for them in this business, started by their father.

Beginning with street stalls, the book store came into existence one-and-a-half-years ago.

The Ojhas were never close to English literature nor have read much of classic novels, but reading has always been their passion.

“I haven’t read much of English writers and novels, but have read many in Hindi,” Ramesh told IANS.

The shop, until a few days ago, possessed a 400-year-old Bible (the oldest among their collection), which an art collector recently purchased from them.

“There are many people who simply abandon books once they are old and we buy these from them. Then we buy from collectors and other wholesalers,” Ojha said.

But it is an era when everything is digital, and even old books come online now… does that bother them?

“Not at all! We see no competition with online platforms, the main reason being we have this huge collection of rare and unseen and old books which, no matter how much you search online, you won’t get them,” he replied.

“Buying books online will deprive you of the aroma that comes from old books as you flip them. Getting physically connected with books is very important to understand its soul,” Ojha added.

Mukta Book Agency is a big relief for those weekend lovers who cannot resist the temptation of staying longer in bed and miss visiting the Daryaganj book market. It is an ideal abode for bibliophiles who can throng in there any day in their quest of old books.

“Even on Sundays we give tough competition to the street sellers as our prices are even lesser than them. We are wholesalers; we can afford selling at lower prices,” Ojha said.

Keeping the books in reasonable condition is a challenge.

“The struggle comes in the monsoon when we have to keep the books away from moisture which can damage them. We make sure that the books are packed with proper care,” he said.

Not just a place for old books, being a wholesaler, they even sell books by the kilo. Boards reading “Rs 100 per kg”, “Rs 200 per kg”, “Rs 50 per kg” hanging from the ceiling grab your attention.

“It is, at the end, a business for us. Selling books in kilos makes it profitable to us and cheap to customers. But not all are sold in kilos. The classics are sold per copy, but of course at a much lower price,” the owner stated.

But a thought that bothers him is the future of bookstores and falling readership.

“Book stores don’t have a bright future, the reason being fewer readers. People now have more options for getting knowledge and other activities to pass time. They are not so keen on reading books. The books are losing their charm,” Ojha lamented.

Whether sold by the book or in kilos, what accompanies these books is the quintessential aroma of Mukta Book Agency. Don’t wait for the next Sunday morning, walk down to the store any day of the week and see the old world charm come alive before your eyes.

(Somrita Ghosh can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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