One of my favourite things to do on a day off is to visit a book shop and browse through the umpteen titles that line the shelves.
There is something interesting about leafing through the pages of a book that was once owned by someone else. The idea that a book meant something to another person makes it all the more precious. Call such ideas romantic but I’m certain that a bibliophile would understand.
Each pre-loved book has a unique physicality. The yellowing pages and the other worldly fragrance they hold. A cover stained from a coffee cup. Underlined passages and notes on the margins. The slightly rounded edges and a dog eared page that acts as a reminder. A fading bus ticket that was once a bookmark. All this creates an intimacy. The book may feel like an old lost friend.
The ability to read is one of the biggest gifts in my life and I try to choose old, used, second hand books.
Why should you choose pre-loved books
When you choose a book that was once owned by another, you:
- Save a ton of natural resources – when you buy brand new books, you unconsciously support the demand for their production. The paper production industry is a resource intensive one and requires cutting of trees, use of fossil fuels and lots of water.
- Give existing books a second life and promote the culture of reuse
- Support a cause or a local business
- Save money
Sisters of the People Book Shop
If you’ve read the Harry Potter books word to word, you might remember that Harry purchases his school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts located in Diagon Alley. It is described as a place where the shelves are stacked to the ceiling with books.
The Sisters of the People Book Shop is Delhi’s version of Flourish & Blotts except that the books sold here are all donated, sold at half the price and once belonged to someone else.
Just like Diagon Alley which resembles a bygone era, Lajpat Bhawan, where the book shop is located – seems to be stuck in time. Spread across a vast compound, painted a pale yellow, the buildings here are just two storeys high. Inside, there are two tiny parks with benches where one can sit, chill and read.
Located in one corner of this compound is a tiny store with a white and green striped awning. A hand painted metal sign post outside the store reads ‘Book Shop’.
A book lover’s dream is a book store that is bursting at its seams – that’s how the Sisters of the People Book Shop is – quite literally. Here books are not just on shelves, they reside in cardboard boxes and form tall towers emerging from the floor, leaving just enough room for one to walk or tiptoe from one part of the room to another.
What kind of books can you find here?
Inspired by the charity book shop model, this store receives donated books regularly. They have every imaginable genre available (most books are in English and some are in Hindi). Apart from novels of all kinds, they have comics, children’s book, school textbooks and coffee table books.
Also, here you can find a range of non-fiction books on history, art, culture, travel, gardening, crafting, health, wellness, spirituality etc. Most of the books here are in mint condition.
What are the prices like?
All books are sold at half their original price. For some books, the price is as low as 10 rupees. A novel may cost you 50 to 150 rupees. A coffee table book might cost you 1,000 to 1,500 rupees.
How is the money from your purchase used?
The money made by the shop goes towards the education of children in 18 baalwaadis (schools for 3-7 year old children) in slums across Delhi. The funds are utilised for their mid-day meals, uniforms, teacher’s fees and kids health check-ups.
The women behind the book shop
Just like the thrift shop next door, this shop is run by women volunteers. Their job is to receive donated books, divide them into various categories, price them one by one and then put them on display.
Former entrepreneur Patricia Gupta recounts how one day she came to Lajpat Bhawan to buy biscuits from the naturopathy centre and signed up to volunteer soon after. She has been with the book shop ever since its establishment in 2002.
Patricia recounts how in the early years, they approached book stores and asked them for books they didn’t need. Over the years, people started donating books to them directly.
In one corner of the store, I spot Nalini who’s writing down new prices on freshly sorted books with a pencil. She tells me how the boot of her car is full of books donated by friends and family.
Other volunteers like Manisha Bedi come here for the love of reading. “I am a voracious reader and I read everything under the sun. I read a few pages every night before I go to bed”, says Manisha.
Who shops at the Sisters of the People Book Shop?
Second hand book shops like these are a paradise for book lovers. I run into Blessy and Vinita, two friends who’re rummaging through books.
“I love shopping for second hand books. I saw a lot of charity shops selling used books in London and I fell in love with the concept. I was looking for something similar here in Delhi and I found this place”, says Blessy, a part-time lecturer who is pursuing a PhD in History.
Her friend Vinita says, “We are continuously in the search of book shops that sell old books…at places like these, we find old books that are well-preserved. I just bought Gunahon Ka Devta and Karmabhoomi for 10 rupees each…these are older editions and have a charm of their own.”
The book shop also caters to college students by setting up stalls in festivals in Delhi University. They also participate in the Spring Food Fest which is held on the first Sunday of February annually at Lajpat Bhawan.
Location and timings
The book shop is located at a walking distance from the Moolchand metro station. The shop is open from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
3 things you must know about the book shop
- If there’s a specific book you’re looking for, you can contact the Book Shop in advance by sending a text message on WhatsApp at +91 93123 88882 (please do not call). They’ll check if the book is available and reserve it for you.
- Please bring your own bag to the shop. They don’t hand out plastic or paper bags (how cool is that!).
- You can also donate books, magazines and old newspapers to the book shop. Just visit when they’re open and drop your stuff.
If you’re a book worm who also wants to live zero waste, head over to this book shop. You’ll definitely find an interesting book here. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the lovely thrift shop next door.
You can connect with the Sisters of the People Book Shop on Instagram.
P.S. This article is dedicated to every person who thinks that books are BFFs and the lovely volunteers at the Sisters of the People Book Shop.