Amidst the chaos of Delhi’s hippie street, Paharganj, if you walk along the road towards the market, you’ll notice a small shop packed with books. This store, owned by two brothers- Mr. Ashwini and Mr. Deepak, has been there for over forty years now. Originally, ” The Jai Kishen Bookstore” after the owners’ father, it’s name was passed around as “the shop that had rare and less popular books”. The difference in pronunciations eventually led it to be called “The Jacksons Bookstore”. This shop stands out in the street full of Alibaba pants, Bob Marley T-shirts, Mandala wall hangings, Dream catchers and Cafes.
I stopped to enquire for a book that I had been looking for since long. The humble and highly knowledgeable store owner, Mr. Ashwini went through the collection and helped me look for it. Though we couldn’t find it during my short visit, I am sure it is there somewhere in some pile. All I would need is an entire day to look through them.
The shop is divided into two levels, with a ladder leading to the upper floor and there’s an extension in the adjacent lane. If you request the owner or if he happens to feel that you truly love books, you might get to see the extension of his store. He warned us that we would be unable to resist buying some titles if we saw the entire collection.
And, guess what? As soon as I saw the extended collection, the first few titles were enough to confirm his statement. There were books that you would not find in any other book store of Delhi. Moreover, Mr. Ashwini is such a delightful person! He recommended many books to me, asked me what sort of books I like and if I’d like for him to arrange any specific titles.
Being a book lover himself and having read some excellent titles, no wonder his collection is praised by everyone. Most of the collection is from his own taste and the suggestions of those who visit his store (That is probably why you will not find books by Chetan Bhagat there!).
“How was it when you started? Or, rather how did you open this shop?”, I asked him.
I could sense nostalgia in his voice as he looked up, and said, “It was very difficult.”. There was a pause and then he continued, “I sold books on the street. I had just passed out of the Delhi University back then. My collection began to grab attention of the tourists who walked by. However, at that point I mostly sold Indian Books and Magazines. Over the course of time, my collection gained popularity among people and they suggested me to keep some English titles as well. As a result, I started keeping books from different languages and gradually opened up a shop.”.
Suddenly his face lit up as he spoke of the better times, “Now, we have books in over 30 languages. And, not just some titles, but an entire collection for each language. We don’t keep books on the general demand or latest release basis, we bring them on recommendations. Our shop has been featured on newspapers, blogs and many magazines. Recently, apart from the tourists, I have had student visitors, some curious students from J.N.U. and D.U. who come and spend a few hours selecting titles.”
He picked up a book, “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse and told me that it is a book that I must read, a meditation centred philosophical book. He added that the book is really deep and beautiful.
I had heard of the book before and did not think twice before purchasing it. After a few weeks, I will definitely go back to look for all the rare books that have been on my list.
I am delighted by how great and peaceful that book shop is. Being a bibliophile and a big time book hoarder, I love visiting book stores with rare titles and vast collection of works by many writers. I can say that I have found my little space in Delhi where I can spend a few hours skimming through the titles and have a nice discussion on good books.
So, if you ever find yourself in Paharganj, or Delhi for that matter, visit this book store to pick up some great reads and make your trip more meaningful and the hours on the buses and trains less overwhelming. You need not have a list of titles to look for, just talk to the owners, tell them what sort of books you like and you’ll be amazed by their recommendations!