A familiar dust of nostalgia hits the nostrils from the margins of the main road here. Footpaths throb with frantic business activity with vendors ensconced in the shade and the buyers blinking at the harsh sun.

But nothing is harsh enough to dissuade them from the purchases they had come for, and hitting a bargain rarely fails to bring out a triumphant smile on possessing a treasure.

Treasures they are, printed words on the paper, at times fresh as flowers, and at times turning to brownish wither. Strangely, the value of these treasures at the old book market at Abids on Sunday never wholly depends on the status they are in. At times, they are given a price higher than what their covers display.

“Try getting this book now,” Syed Akram, a septuagenarian seller says with a playful glint in his smile. In his hands is a Telugu Akademi volume of 1974 displaying the cover price as Rs.16, but quoted at Rs.50 by Akram. Unavailability has added to the book's value, though its leaves are threatening to come off.

Such is the business, says Akram, that you may get a fresh book at half the price, while a decaying one can don a premium tag. And how would the near-illiterate seller know what the book deserves? Ask Akram, and he guffaws.

“Not for nothing have I been in the field for the last 40 years. You get to know many things by the buyers' choice. I have many serious buyers, High Court judges included. Even my father was in the same profession,” he says proudly. He even claims to know V.R. Narla, legendary writer-journalist, who would scour the Sunday market regularly with wife in tow.

Like his colleagues in the book market, Akram spends six days of his week in preparation for the seventh. He visits the regular sellers, 20 or 25 of them to procure the ‘maal'.

On Sunday, he hauls the merchandise to his corner near Abids and spreads them topic-wise for shoppers to take their pick.

“We have a tacit understanding of who should occupy which corner and never attempt encroaching the other's place. This arrangement has been in place for ages,” says Mohd. Shareef Pasha, another seller from Kala Paththar.

Experience helps

Coming as early as 8 a.m., he spends substantial time arranging his wooden frames and planks, and later the books on them. Those on the planks are sold at flat rates of Rs.10 and Rs.20, while those on the racks can be haggled over. By way of experience, Pasha can recognise well-known authors' names and price, and place his books accordingly.

“Earlier, we used to travel to Mumbai for the books but it's not viable any more,” says Pasha. While he visits individual book sellers, he also buys them from ‘containers' paying price per kilogram! Mohd.

Ghouse, another seller, who thrives on magazine sales, says Hyderabad is getting all kinds of them, including Forbes and Economist; hence no need for Mumbai trips.