The Book Capital of the World

Make no mistake about it. Delhi is the publishing and information capital of India too. Most publishers like Penguin, Oxford or Rupa are located here. The top news magazines like India Today and Outlook run from here. The daily fodder of the Indian news fiend NDTV operates from Delhi. The organisations, which decide what our children are going to read like NCERT, are based here. The weighty intellectuals who give us our daily spiel in newspapers and TV channels are mostly based in Delhi. But the Delhite has been known for his groping in DTC buses, chhole bhaturas and robust dancing but never for his books.

I had joined a company in Delhi and then was studiously concentrating on a problem in my cabin when I overheard some colleagues discussing about the new bloke. I was being described as nice, sincere blah blah and also quirkily as one who also reads books as if it was like having a cow in the flat. I was the odd man out in the office where they could not believe one could spend money on buying books rather than gold or a new large fridge. Not a surprising behaviour, considering that the reading habits of the charismatic head of the office were limited to ruffling through Debonair in railway platform Wheelers.

The place in South Delhi where I stay has possibly the lowest ratio of bookshops and magazine stalls to total shops for any city in the world. I am also sure that the percentage of expenditure on books to the total household income in Delhi must be 0.0000001%, again a world record low. Here in a three km radius from where I stay, I can get Hitachi plasma TVs in five shops, Rado watches in fifteen places and Lebanese food in seven joints but I have only three street side magazine stalls and two bookshops. Out of these two, one is good and all of forty sq feet and the other stocks books in only thirty five percent of its space.

But the times they are a-changin’.

The Delhite now has heard that knowledge is a critical ingredient to push ahead in the modern world. He also knows that it has become a status symbol. And nobody can hold a candle to Delhiwallahs as far as status symbols and pushing for success go.

The Delhiwallah has discovered books and is buying them! It is becoming a revered status symbol like a Skoda or a Rolex. I was talking to some guys from Time- Life publishing who sell educational books for children-very good and very expensive. The full set costs a whopping 1.25 lac rupees. They sell it on EMIs too. But the biggest market in the country by miles is Delhi where most sales happen on cash. In the other towns in India, most sales happen on EMIs. So what is the secret? Here, rich businessmen and contractors who proudly display it in their drawing rooms buy most sets. Imagine the status value when Mrs.Chopra tells her friend from Shalimar Bagh that her son reads about alligators from such big, expensive books and not from something published by Navneet.

A similar tale from my friend in Oxford University Press. They were confused for a long time when their leather bound books started flying off the shelves in Delhi. Several months and consumer studies later they discovered that the books were being bought as artefacts for drawing rooms.

So I was not surprised to see an article which said that now interior designers get mandates from their clients to select suitable books for display along with dining chairs and divans.

So there is now money in selling books and I heard that the sanitary ware shop across the street selling glass shower cubicles is now being demolished to turn into a bookshop.

To encash on this newfound craze for the status symbol, I suggest three ideas:

a) The travel agents start offering a complete set of works from an author where people go to - so travellers to South Africa will get a complete set of J.M.Coetzee or travellers to Prague get a set of Kundera.

b) In the busy marriage season the booksellers can pitch for sending the invitation along with leather bound classics.

c) For every five hundred and seventy mithai packs you give in Diwali, gift one book.

Soon Delhi will become the book capital of the world.


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