The Streets of Desire

Old Delhi’s subversive love-letter manuals

01 November 2017

ON SUNDAY MORNINGS, in Old Delhi, the pavements of the neighbourhood of Daryaganj and the thoroughfare of Nai Sarak are transformed into one of the largest book markets in India. All kinds of books eventually reach the footpath stalls here. I once found an out-of-print copy of Arun Kolatkar’s Jejuri, which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1977, for a pittance amid piles of test-preparation books.

Most of the books here arrive in bulk, having been discarded by their owners and lugged away by kabadiwalas. Pocket books, however, have the footpaths as their principal address. Most are published and sold locally, and are rarely found in bookshops. The Sunday market in Old Delhi can be seen as a footpath archive of the Indian pocket-book industry.

These cheap, colourful books have long served as guides on everything from cooking to medicine, astrology to sex. It was among them that I first found a copy of Prem Patra: Love Letters, a volume dedicated to the art of love-letter writing.

Kanupriya Dhingra is a research scholar at the department of English, University of Delhi. Her research interests include the history of books and South Asian print cultures

Keywords: literature old Delhi romance publishing cities