Delhiwale: Book heaven at Batla House

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ByMayank Austen SoofiNew Delhi

The tiny basement room is stuffed with too many writers. A perfect place for bookworms to burrow into the delicious smells of well-turned-together moldy pages.

The Book Hub is the only oasis in a desert without books. Because this is a PIN without any other bookstore – Batla House, South Delhi. Hidden in the bowels of Chowdhury’s drab and dusty complex, every square inch of the shop is stuffed with towers of used paperbacks. There is no method in the disposition of genres — there is no disposition! Everything can be spotted anywhere. The unpredictability of the titles sends the mind on a dizzying trip. Look in any direction and your biased gaze will spot a range of classic/trash/boring.

Consider the stacks this afternoon: a slim paperback titled There Was Nobody at the Bus Stop by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyaya is next to a beautiful Arden edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is just below the volume IV-V of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, which is a few paperbacks from The Complete Operas of Mozart, which forms a right angle with the surmounted stack of the Book of the Life of Jiddu Krishnamurti; which is next to Tilism-e-Hoshruba, which is… oh, there are several floors of Harry Potter hardcover books – all of them Deathly Hollows (the latest volume 7!). And just above the Oxford Advanced Learner’s is a hardcover red Salman Rushdie.

And somewhere in all these books, you might catch a glimpse of Muhammed Anas, a camera-shy young man who agrees to be photographed after long hesitation. He created the shop three years ago; his father had a book business in the kitab market of Nai Sadak in distant Old Delhi. “Dad sometimes sits here in the morning.” Anas set up the shop at this address “because there was no bookstore here, apart from a few shops selling textbooks”. The place also has textbooks – from wine and psychology to big medical school tomes. Being close to Jamia Millia University, “I also meet many students who come here to get novels.”

Books come from a variety of places, including libraries and private homes as they dispose of their collections. “We also supply books to libraries…in places as far afield as Kashmir and Ladakh.”

A girl enters, inquiring about an unimaginative title – 101 Essays. Anas takes the book out of an invisible place, as casually as a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat.

The store is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. In front of the JD Kurti store.

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Raymond I. Langston