Books, buyers, leaders and readers...

Few takers for books despite attractive discounts at this bookshop on Janpath. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Few takers for books despite attractive discounts at this bookshop on Janpath. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

IN HIS essay, `Of Studies' Bacon has said: "Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and a few to be chewed and digested." But then, there are few to follow the Baconian rule now. For evidence just have a peep at the old and famous bookshops in the heart of New Delhi - Janpath.

Amid the laminating glass works on bags and other items of decoration, wall hangings, unique art pieces from many States across India, nest these few book shops every alternate pavement. Some of them are as old as 1935 and others, half a century old. The shops were frequented by the likes of Prithviraj Kapoor, Nargis, Indira Gandhi and her sons.

"Do you have a book on Spanish taught in English," a young customer asks the owner of Empire Book Depot while at Karachi Book Shop, a man asks for "Women and Men in My Life" by Khuswant Singh. "He was my father's classmate in England," he proclaims. A few glances are naturally turned to him. Some young girls take a quick peep into the stacks loaded with books and prefer taking a more refreshing look at colourful decorative items selling nearby.

"Today's generation's interest in general books has declined awfully. They think they have read enough in their college and schools," moans a bookshop owner watching them pass by.

"My father established this book shop in 1935 at Naushairab, Pakistan. India and Pakistan were one then. After Partition, he re-established it here. I joined him in 1965," says 60-year-old Vinod Pahuja, going down memory lane. It was Prithviraj Kapoor who would frequent this bookshop and buy many books at a time. "He seemed to be an avid reader. He would stay here for long and purchase books on art, dance, craft and fiction. It used to be a pleasure showing him our collection of books to him and Nargis and recently Rekha who have been our regular customers," Pahuja beams with pride.

Seventy-year-old P Narayan of Paramount Book Shop is here since 1953. "We came here as refugees after Partition. Earlier we had our shops at Connaught Place verandah in the form of cardboard and tin outlets. We were allotted this space by NDMC later. Earlier they would charge Rs. 50, now it is around 2000 per month," he complains.

Narayan does not blame young generation for losing interest in books. "It is the roaring price of the books that causes many to refrain from buying. Even for foreigners for whom these books would come for just five to six dollars, now it is 20 to 30," he says. Yet they buy travel guides, books on Indian history, culture and craft books. During October to March many travellers come to buy books and hot season is lean business-wise.

This is the shop where Maharajas of Bilaspur, Bekanair, Dhaulpur and Jaipur would come and purchase books of knowledge. Indira and Sanjay Gandhi were regular visitors. "Sanjay would buy lots of books related to cars before tinkering with the idea of Maruti," he informs you. And if you know, today's Maruti car is Sanjay's brainchild. Indira Gandhi also wrote a coffee-table book called "Eternal India", now out of print. "I sold lots of copies of this book for Rs. 500 to 1200. Indira wrote the book when she was out of power after imposing Emergency," he tells you.

That might have been another era but you won't be far off the mark if you trudged across to Janpath bookshops for a date with history, each with its own tale to relate, each a storehouse of knowledge.

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