Treasure trove of books, exotic cafes

Eclectic choice

Have you read Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno? He asks an Israeli customer as she browsed through the stack of books written or translated into Hebrew, while offering a French to English dictionary to a Parisian enquiring about it. 

Deepak Dialani, the co-owner of Jacksons bookstore in Paharganj isn’t one of those pushy salesmen who eulogise their goods and force them on you, especially if you are a foreigner in this travellers’ haven in Delhi. He prefers to sit reclined in his comfy chair, watching his favourite show on his mini-TV, springing to action only when he has to attend to a customer.  He was all frenetic energy and enthusiasm when Metrolife showed interest in the treasure trove of books that his shop is.

With a sense of measured pride in his tone, Deepak exclaims, “We have books in 30 different languages. I go and source them from Ansari Road market in Daryaganj, Connaught Place, embassy auctions and the second-hand books from travellers. You won’t find as rich a variety anywhere else. They are all hand-picked.” Curious, we ask if he is a voracious reader? 

“I have only read Godfather till date. But when I talk to travellers around here, I pick up their interests. You know, Shantaram by Gregory David has been the greatest retail-seller for us in all these years. It comes in 76 different translations and everybody wants to read this account.”
 He makes it evident that while he may not have read all the books in his tiny shop, but he knows them in and out. Taking cue from there, we ask him for a few recommendations.

“They like to read Indian books, but not the Chetan Bhagat types. We do not keep any of that either. What I would recommend are writers like Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Shashi Tharoor and the likes. In fact there is one book by Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, which I offer to everyone to savour the taste of Indian writing at first,” says the 50-year old bookseller.

The scorching afternoon cooled by a sudden midsummer shower paints a surreal picture as we sat discussing books and his varied clientele. 

“Foreigners love to read the books in their own language, unlike us. We hardly show any affinity towards our national tongue. But you also have to appreciate them for the fact that they pick up Hindi very soon and come asking for comics in Hindi to practise their interest in our language.” 

Pointing towards a shelf-full of the evergreen and favourite childhood titles Amar Chitra Katha, he goes on to tell, “And simple stories from our mythology and religion interests them a lot.”

“Would you believe, it was 30 years ago that we started the book-selling business on the railway tracks of Paharganj? I think this market was even developed back then, when 20 years ago we acquired this little shop on the main road. Since then things have only gone downhill,” says Deepak sitting relaxed in a shop that appears like a two-level box. 

But appearances are deceptive and Deepak labours the point that he has a much bigger stockroom just in the lane behind the shop. Interestingly, the stockroom also serves as an ‘astrology room’ where his brother-in-law Satyapal Kapoor is engaged in an astrology session with a Finnish customer, before joining us at the bookshop. The bookshop is also famous for the astrology readings and Deepak and his brother-in-law cater to an impressive foreign clientele over skype.

 “To construct wider roads during Commonwealth Games, they almost got us to push our shop to the wall. Then there’s no parking system here to facilitate shoppers. The cost of shipping books has gone up from Rs 175 per five kgs to Rs 1,000 per two kgs! Enough to harm our business!” he says.

But the trail of sadness doesn’t linger long on his face, as he switches back to his TV. The printed panels on the bookshelves read: “Your journey for your favourite book ends here’ and ‘The choice is yours, the pleasure to serve is ours’, amongst other messages.

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