Where did our Bookstores Go?

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– Anaita Sabikhi

Let’s talk numbers. Delhi University officially has 78 colleges, 4 recognized institutions and 84 postgraduate departments with approximately 320,000 students. Let’s assume that half of these students are in north campus, which brings us to a watered down figure of 1,60,000 students. The hub for eating, meeting or plain hanging out for this vast group is our very own Kamla Nagar Market. Being only a 10 to 15 minute walk away from most colleges you would expect it to have a distinctly collegiate atmosphere, teeming with small coffee shops and the one quintessential student thing – books. Walking on the crowded, narrow pavement, at first glance, you’ll get the wrong impression when you’re met with an array of shops selling books.

Is it absolutely ludicrous to ask for a book STORE and not a quick, ask-what-you-want and get it book depot?

Starting off with University Bookstore that is by far the most popular and is always full of people. It has all your textbooks, plus classics and other books considered ‘young’, like a Pink Floyd biography or maybe ‘Almost Single.’ It’ll have the popular books, for example Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. The point though is that it isn’t a store, it’s simply a place where books are stocked. No tantalizing displays, no space to stand and browse and absolutely no concept of simply having a look.

Datta bookstore has a buy and sells system, where you often get second hand books for as little as Rs. 10. But most of these books are sleazy crime novels or Bob the Builder variety kids books. The staff is efficient, asks you what you want and are usually quick in finding it, but again no browsing. Book Land is next, but their fiction section comprises one paltry shelf behind a glass cabinet. International Book House is run by two sardarji’s and is usually less crowded but well stocked. The last in this row is Charkha Oriental which sells Sanskrit and religious books. You might just find a sadhu sitting there going through devotional music books!

The infamous pirated bookstalls that litter the streets are next. If you’re looking for the books by Chetan Bhagat or the ubiquitous Khaled Hosseini you’ll find them here for a cool hundred bucks.

So here’s my pitch. Is it absolutely ludicrous to ask for a book STORE and not a quick, ask-what-you-want and get it book depot? It’s hard to believe that the reading population among students is so low that it is not worth the while of a bookstore owner to open shop. Not even a small underground one…Where you can sit and browse for as long as you like, and be allowed your cup of tea to sip…Where a stranger can recommend a book they liked and you read it and have it change your life…Where writers and readers alike can meet for the occasional book reading…

I wonder, if it has something to do with our very psyche? Have we been grilled since time immemorial by just tuition and textbooks? And we actually have no taste or idea about the others? Even if that is the case, having a bookstore will change things. In a reversal of roles, apart from bookworms flocking to it, it will encourage more people to read. A smart display will have people coming in. And in a high student density place like Kamla, word spreads like wild fire and there is no doubt, that if a book or a store gets popular there will be no looking back for it. So someone, hear our plea and bring us salvation – all we ask for is one proper bookstore.

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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