‘A Book’ – There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

A simple yet profound poem about a book, written more than a century ago; yet totally and equally applicable now to the hordes and millions out there, who would rather spend an evening reading a book than traverse through the chaotic traffic, handle the road rages, deal with the innumerable inanities of daily life or swim through all the emotional baggage that comes with day-to-day life!

Book lovers, book worms, bookies (not the betting kind!); bibliophiles are what they are – voracious readers, who need a book to read each and every day. While for some it is a hobby that has become a habit in a good way, for others it is the sheer pleasure of getting away into an imaginary land, a la Alice (in Wonderland).

For people like them, ‘heaven’ comes every Sunday and has been doing so for the past 35-odd years or so. No one really knows when it actually started, but now no one can really ignore it even if they wanted to. The Sun has just about risen on a lazy Sunday morning, the doodhwallahs are busy unloading their crates to be dispatched, the newspaper boys are stacking their bunches together, the sweepers have just started their daily routine, the beggars are awake and wondering where to start, the autowallahs are busy cleaning their chariots, the Irani chai café has just opened its shutters to its early morning regulars and so have the booksellers got down to their weekly routine of selling second-hand books – some of which are rare and priceless! They are there from dawn to dusk, i.e. from 7 am to 7 pm.

The point in discussion is the age-old Sunday book bazaar held regularly at Abids, out on the pavements. So much so, that all the booksellers have their permanent places in front of the closed shops. It’s all in the family too, with the father, son, nephew, cousin all selling second-hand books next to each other, dotting all the footpaths right from Abids GPO to Taj Mahal Hotel; not to miss the Meena Bazaar bylane, lane after MPM, road leading to Pulla Reddy Sweets and many more. Not just that! It is a business that is also passed down the generation line, from father to son. Mohammed Arif has been selling books here for the past 10 years, handed down from his father who he claims sold books for more than 35 years. They spend their whole Sunday on the pavement and eat their home-packed dabbas at their ‘shop’ itself, lest they lose out on a valuable customer! The only break they take is for namaz, at the nearby masjid.

The Sunday Bazaar has been around for a long, long time. As far back as we can remember. People have bought books here for as little as one rupee. And the bargains are just as good today. Really, it’s a mystery why anybody would buy books on any other day of the week.

Street book shopping is always fascinating, digging through piles of unreadable tripe to unearth something worthy, something fun. The bargains are in a different league. Many a book is to be found in huge heaps, to be sold for a tenner – or a fiver. Five rupees? And in that you find greatness! Haggling is an obvious part of the game; while sometimes the prices seem so low you feel guilty about undercutting them further. This is a tradition and ritual of the finest kind for many. More incentives to hit the city for a weekend, than even the much-feted biryani.

The city is actually an interesting case study on how to use commercial areas productively on Sundays. For, the Sunday Bazaar help Abids’ pavements wear a transformed look. The booksellers take over completely and the array of books is quite simply unbelievable! But one does need tremendous patience to look for that particularly elusive publication because there is really no order in the way the books are placed in most shops. In fact, it’s best to just amble along and let fate assist you in stumbling upon that pot of gold! Like in any other book bazaar, the book lover will encounter his share of ‘pulp fiction’, even comics with makeshift covers. But then there are the hidden gems, the collector’s items: A journalist’s account of that fateful day in Hiroshima in 1945, the rarest Sherlock Holmes collection, or Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. There is certainly never a dull moment here. The bazaar gets even better since the booksellers are amiable and more than willing to go that extra mile to please you, the buyer. And they won’t wince should you spend hours browsing through their collection and leave without picking up anything.

The key to any market of this kind is the age of the book. The older the edition, the greater the desire to own it. Well, the shopkeepers know that only too well and therefore the price is quite simply a matter of basic demand and supply.

There is something in a second-hand book that never fails to fascinate. The idea that a book that you are holding has been read, loved or hated by someone before you. The fingerprints over the grainy pages, tucked old bills or pressed flowers as bookmarks that you find, have their own charm. It is nice to think that someone else was amazed by the writer’s lyrical prose, incensed by a character’s actions or horrified at the sudden turn of events on page 143.

There is some joy in opening a copy of Da Vinci Code and finding these scribbled under the title:
To Mummy,
Hope you enjoy it!
Pa, Chotu and Me!

And wandering away wondering if Mummy enjoyed it. It connects you irrevocably to the rest of humanity and you read to discover that you are not alone.

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Second-hand Sourcing
The bazaar is a collection of small second-hand bookstalls, some of which have regular outlets outside the Sunday market as well. The commercial complex that houses Hollywood Shoes on the Abids main road is where it begins, and the row snakes its way to the GPO. Even though they all sell everything from fiction to self-help, there are certain tips you could use on your first time at the book bazaar.

Major source of their second-hand books are the markets of Bombay and Delhi, from where they themselves go and buy it, to sell it here to the book lovers. While their Sunday is blocked for selling the books, the rest of the week goes by in sourcing the books from various points; be it the metros, regular customers, raddiwalas, old newspaper traders or regular book stores selling their old stock. Many customers come by and sell/give their books to these sellers, who can actually judge a book by its cover literally, even though they are not as educated as their customers. They can tell if a particular book will sell or not; or if it is a much-needed one in the market.

Neatly arranged, segregated as per the subject, segregated price-wise, from top to bottom, they know exactly what is where and what’s not. Being in the business for so long, their acumen on identifying a potential customer, giving the book that a customer needs just by noticing which book the customer is looking at or has first asked for, selling the same book to different customers at different prices by judging the person, identifying potential future customers who have just come for a cursory glance, handing out the right kind of books to people who are asking for too many books at the same time, inviting an accompanying kid to look at a fairy tale or giving a free book on purchase of a couple of hundreds; they have it all. In fact, it would make a good study for the MBA students (who come to buy books from them) to write about – about their selling skills, their people management skills, their behavioural pattern skills, their judgment on body language skills, etc.

Nothing goes waste here, each and every book is sold, even for as less as Rs. 5/-! “The cover is torn many a times by the book shop owner and sent to the publishing company asking for more books. These torn books are given away to the raddiwala. We pick it up from them, bind them and then sell it for a suitable price,” says Mohammed Salim.

Bookshop owners in Abids sell off their extra or unwanted books to these booksellers for a lesser price; and they in turn fix a suitable price and sell it here.

What sells, what doesn’t?
‘Running books’, (as they call it – for fast-selling books) are college books, management books, magazines that are barely month-old, are popular and sell faster compared to the other books. A rough estimate says that there are about 100’s of booksellers dotting the pavements here, but it is difficult to get a near-accurate figure. They have books catering to every topic that you can think of – self-help, management, people skills, public speaking, educational, kids stories, novels, fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, photography, etc……and the list goes on and on.

“Books on computers (software languages) sell more now, whereas filmi magazines and novels used to sell more earlier,” says M.A. Bari who has been selling here for the past 10-odd years. He states in a matter-of-fact manner that sales have come down, and when questioned why, he says “People are watching more of TV now and reading less of books. Also because everything that they want is now available on the Internet or TV,” wishing that things would get better soon.

Books range and cost
The books here are a bibliophile’s dream – you can get books that are second-hand, new, pirated, of a foreign language, magazines, journals, books on the most obscure subjects – anything you could possibly imagine. The book you’ve been searching for all your life? It’s probably there somewhere among the piles, ready to be sold at whatever price you and the seller agree on, after much haggling. And that is the dream that drives all the booklovers who visit the market. The only thing is that, you have to scout for your gem, pan for it like gold among the mud, but when you do find it, nothing can beat the sense of exhilaration.

While the range of books is innumerable, so is the price. The price can vary from anything between Rs. 5 to Rs. 5000. You will find huge piles of books in some stalls, priced at just Rs. 5 and some very rare hardbound voluminous books at Rs. 5000. “We source the books are per the need of the day or if a particular customer has asked for something specific,” says Mohammed Salim and adds, “the book is priced accordingly or as per the date of its publication (if it is a magazine or education-oriented book).” Many times, the book is either half of the MRP or even lesser than that.

Pirated books or low-priced original duplicates, as you may want to call it, are also available for a throwaway price. But you would have to be careful to check the pages and print, before you get eager and buy it.

Present scenario
Looks like the global economy meltdown has affected the booksellers too, since they see the customers’ number dwindling. “Sales have come down drastically, at least by 50% in the past two to three months. Earlier there were more permanent customers, now there are far less,” says Arif and adds, “90% of our customers are the permanent ones and just 10% are the new ones who are just browsing.”

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“There are less customers now, because of the recession,” says Mohammed Mehboob Sharif and adds “we decrease costs to sell more books and get customers.” He however likes the Abids area now than earlier, “Change according to the times is good for all of us” he says.

Competition business
The price of a book can vary from seller to seller and it is here that the seller either gets lucky or unlucky i.e. if he reduces his price he sells a book, if not he doesn’t. Many times, you have the bookseller cutting down his share of profits just so that he could sell a book. They also have to pay a share to the local authorities, and even the shop-owners, for putting up their stalls every Sunday. In spite of all these problems, they stick around and sell their prized possession of second-hand books.

”Things were different earlier, the roads were smaller,” says M.D. Mohsin, who has been a bookseller at Abids since 1970 and adds “change is good, it should happen.” He however laments the fact that there are less number of customers now compared to the ‘70’s. His family has been selling books here for the past couple of decades and he is all-familiar with the ways of identifying a customer and selling them a book.

It’s but hard to ignore the fact that the crowds have decreased, since you see lesser people buying the books. Mohammed Salim, selling since the past 20 years, sums it up aptly saying “Earlier customers used to wait for us, even before we came to set up our stalls and now we wait for them,” and adds that on an average it is hardly about Rs. 5/- to Rs. 10/- that they make on each book sold (depending on what book it is).

Ahmed Ali, who runs Best Book Centre in Abids has a permanent shop in the complex nearby and has been there for the past couple of years selling second-hand books. He himself is a regular customer at the footpath bookstores, picking up varied second-hand books for his shop, that he will sell throughout the week. Shops like these in the city are many and are a blessing in disguise for people who cannot make it to the Sunday book bazaar.

Sales at his store are more of self-help and management books bought by the younger generation whereas the 40-plus crowds buy more of the literature and spiritual books. “Genuine readers know our shop well and come regularly,” says Ahmed Ali and adds with confidence that “no customer will go empty-handed from our store.” This is true! Since I too ended up blowing up a couple of hundreds on the books that I bought. “We do know a little about the books that we sell, so we can tell what a customer wants,” he says with experience and continues, “With experience I know what to buy and what not to buy.”

He sources his books from the second-hand book sales on the streets of Mumbai and Delhi and from customers who sell collections in bulk to him. “What sells in the metros, sells here too,” he states matter-of-factly but laments, “however people have less time now. Earlier they used to roam around just like that and browse, and end up buying at least one book, but now there are less customers coming in.”

Bookstores like these too complain that on the whole, there are less customers coming by; maybe due to recession, maybe due to the advent of the Internet or TV or maybe due to various other reasons. It is only during the book sales that they have, that they get good sales to make even.

Clientale and trading
Young and old alike are there at the busy streets of Abids to buy what they want, not minding the hot Sun or the busy streets one bit. Some like Mrs. Prasanna, a middle-aged housewife who was happily sitting on the pavement next to the books engrossed in the book that she was contemplating whether to buy or not said “This Sunday book bazaar is like heaven to me. Being at home the whole week I really look forward to this break that I can take every Sunday, where I can get lost in my books and thoughts while browsing the thousands of gems here.”

Divya, a young woman working for a multinational and a regular at the bazaar says, “I like to read and imagine what the author wants to convey and this is the only place that I can buy whatever book I want without bothering about the price, because they are so dirt-cheap.”

Varalaxmi, a lady well into her prime says that she gets the rare spiritual and religious books here that are not found even in the biggest bookstores in the malls.

While some read to unwind, and some read to kill time there are the others who are totally addicted to it. Like Farhana, ‘who cannot sleep without reading’. Needlessly to say she too is a regular at the weekend bazaar and knows many of the booksellers by name.

And then there are people like K. Sai Baba, who actually gives preference to the visit to the Sunday book bazaar over other family functions and daily chores. “It has become a habit to me. I’ve been a regular at this market for the past 25 years and come here every Sunday without fail unless I’m out of town. Many recognize me personally and ensure that I get a good price,” he says. He goes on and says, “the greatness about this bazaar is that you don’t find these books in book shops. The specialty here is the availability of rarest of rare books coupled with the cheap cost. I personally find it very useful.” He also mentioned about a bookstall owner that he knows, who made it big just by selling these second-hand books and continues doing so.

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For people like G. Yadaiah, who I met at Best Book Centre, the Sunday book bazaar is “something we need to be proud of.” A social worker by profession, he says “for book lovers it is like heading out on a treasure hunt every time they come to shops like these. You get refreshing energy when you find the book that you have been searching for.” Thanking all such bookshops for keeping these ‘treasures’ he says that he has become good friends with the shop owners. “They call and inform me about the books that I’ve wanted. I come by, have a cup of tea with them and then buy the books. Everyday is a Sunday market with these kinds of shops.” He however feels bad that the “younger generation is less interested in books and even those who read are interested in reading popular literature and not the others. But there is at least hope, that some are still reading books.”

For Prakash “who owes his reading habits entirely to pavement book shops (pirated or seconds)” the weakening of the “book-reading culture” in the city is “disheartening.” He also reads books on the web but “it doesn’t rival the feeling of being able to thumb through a physical copy.”

Anne, from Bangalore says “For some like me it is an experience so innocent, so joyful that I cannot express it in its entirety. The second-hand book markets of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bombay, Calcutta, etc are legendary and most booklovers like me take time to visit these en route to other places.” She further adds with delight “Hyderabad has a wonderful tradition of used book markets all over the city and these cut across budgets, tastes and locations in the city. The Sunday book market at Abids, the rare and antique bookstores near Charminar, the decades old bookshops of Koti and quite a different world altogether are the second-hand bookshops. My experience at these shops definitely has a uniqueness of its own.”

Second-hand bookshops and footpath booksellers are aplenty in the city; at places like Punjagutta Cross Roads, Secunderabad, Dilsukhnagar, Charminar, YMCA and many more. But it is only a handful of ardent book lovers out there who know where they are and head out for a ‘treasure hunt’ when they long for it. Whatever be the reason, it sure is worthwhile to spend one Sunday afternoon in this vast book arena. Never mind the heat; you will discover unlimited joy. And Abids is no longer the same on Sunday afternoons!

A quick reference guide on what to find where, in the multitudes of shops lined up:
Fiction: All the stalls on the inside of the Hollywood complex have a decent collection of novels, even for children. But if you’re looking for best sellers, visit Excellent Books (first one on your right when you step in from the Abids main road).

Sheldon, Cook, Asimov, King and the rest reside in the bookstalls on your right after you enter the complex from Hollywood. The store first on your left when you emerge from the complex into the Meena Bazaar lane also has a small collection of novels by popular Russian authors, including Anton Chekov, Boris Pasternak and Alexandr Ostrovsky.

Coffee-table books: Right ahead of you, as you enter the complex from the main road, is M R’s bookstall, which stocks a variety of beautiful coffee-table books on everything from Salvador Dali to Gothic Architecture. M R also has numerous recipe books, and a small set of hardbound Reader’s Digest compilations apart from back issues of American and British magazines like Esquire, Vogue, Glamour, Good Housekeeping and National Geographic.

Time, MAD, Esquire etc: M R Bookstall and the inner bookstalls on your right after M R.

Textbooks and other educational books: Fat books on everything from management to computer science to politics and gender, can be found on the pavement outside and opposite Meena Bazaar apart from self-help, Chicken Soup series, spirituality and autobiographies.

Novels for ten bucks: All the stalls starting from the Meena Bazaar lane to GPO sell romance, sci-fi and general use-and-throw books for Rs.10/-. Good bargain for train journeys.

Vernacular books: The stalls along the Abids main road and leading up to the GPO have magazines and novels in Telugu, Urdu and even Marathi!

This is a small segregation of the books available here. You will find much more as you browse through the shops.

Books are priced here at fairly attractive rates. You may even get 80% discount on some of the finest books. From outside, some books may look worn, but most of them have their stuff well-maintained.

Our tips for visiting the second-hand book shops:

You can visit it anytime between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM and only on Sundays.
Parking is not a problem since all the shops are closed.

Don’t judge books by the cover, in the literal sense. Scrutinize every book carefully to ensure that the insides are not torn.

If you are searching for any book, give the name of the book to the seller. He might be able to get it for you in the subsequent week.

If you are not satisfied with the price, try to look in other stalls.

Once you enter the market, be patient enough to search through the books. This is not for people in a hurry.

If you want to sell your old books and get a good deal, don’t say yes to the first vendor. Check out what you are being offered from other vendors and settle for the best price.

The prices are very low but in some cases they ask for more. Haggle if need be! #KhabarLive