While the market has managed to survive, the future is uncertain for many of the shopkeepers.

Spanning decades Hyderabads iconic book market at Abids has stood the test of timeAll Images: Nitin B
news Culture Saturday, March 11, 2017 - 12:02

Twenty-two-year-old Abrar is engrossed in his phone as he sits on top of a staircase that is lined up with books. 

"Kya hona? (what do you want?)" he asks. 

When told that one is just looking through, he goes back to his phone, keeping track of potential customers from the corner of his eye.

For the last five years, Abrar has accompanied his elder brother every Sunday, carrying a huge bundle of books on his back.

"We come a bit early and set up, so no one takes our spot. I like this place, because I can keep a watch on customers clearly from here and I can just slide down the railing and catch anyone who tries to steal a book," he says with a broad smile.



Abrar is just one book vendor out of many, at the Abids weekly book market in Hyderabad, that has been one of the constant features of the ever-changing city.

Regarded as a bookworm's paradise, the Sunday book market has a second-hand book on almost every topic under the sun. One could pick up a book for a toddler in one shop, and pick up research material for a PhD thesis, five metres away. 

Nobody really knows for sure how the market came into existence but many claim that it has been around for at least three or four decades now.

"I've been setting up my books here for at least 20 years now. I started in the late 90s, and I have missed very few Sundays," says Mohammed, adding that there were people who were already there for several years when he arrived.

"I remember coming here in the 80s, around 1985 or 1986. The entire area looked quite different, but the market was right here, where it’s always been," says a long-time resident of the city, as he skims through the fiction section of a shop.

Every Sunday morning, instead of the shutters of various showrooms and stores on the Abids main road opening, traders arrive with bulky cloth bags, and proceed to set up shop.

The books are lined up on the footpath and staircases, while another bunch of shops are set up inside a complex nearby. 

Besides the wide variety of books, there is another thing that attracts people from across the city to the market every week -- the price.

If one possesses the right amount of bargaining skills, you could pocket four or five books for just Rs 100. 

Books at the market are priced as low as Rs 20, and increase to Rs 50 or a few hundred, depending on the size of the book, and its condition. 



The Internet Era

Like booksellers in other street markets who were affected as the internet grew, traders of the Abids market too acknowledge that their days are numbered.

The onset of online retailers has meant that their profits have been hit hard.

"Nowadays, you can take out your phone and purchase a book at the click of a button. It's unfortunate because there's nothing like picking up a book and skimming through it personally, before you buy it. I have served many customers, and they have always left with a smile, holding the book closely. Maybe I'm just a sentimental fool," one trader remarks.  

"I know that I can't do this forever. I just want to put my daughter through college, and then I'm done. Another two years at the most, and then I will find something else to do," he adds.

Others fear if they would even last that long.

"There were days when I used to make profits of Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 in a single day, and get sold out by afternoon. Now, I'm lucky if I make Rs 500," says Mohammed. 

The book market itself has been pushed behind a row of stalls that sell clothes, shoes, watches and other miscellaneous items. The occasional fruit stall in between also makes its presence felt.

Many book traders have no choice, but to adapt to the changing times. 

"There are a lot of families who come to buy clothes with little kids. We have started lining up children's books, as they always seem to be selling well. That's the only thing that I'm sure will sell every week," says Hussain.

Some, like Mohammed, have started selling fashion magazines.



"People may not buy books anymore, but they still do pick up magazines. They require a much shorter attention span and are lighter to read," he says.

Many have also started selling academic books like training modules and guide books for competitive exams.

Some have dropped their rates even further, offering books for Rs 10, while others say that they just keep what seems to be selling.

"Of late, I've found that interior design books always sell. I'm yet to figure out why though," says Adnan, as he strikes deals and handles multiple customers at once.

Adnan's stall has everything from Hitler's Mein Kampf, to an extensive collection of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, to George Orwell and Ayn Rand. 

"I've tried reading some of those books. They're too complicated for me," he shrugs, as he points at several volumes of illustrated science and history books that are a part of his collection.

"I know that sales are low, but we usually get a boost during the summer. I'm pinning my hopes on the upcoming vacation. I've set up a permanent book shop in Old City. If I don't see my sales rise this year, I think I'll just pack up and take everything there," Adnan adds.

"With each passing year, I have seen the number of shops dwindle and the number of customers decrease. Soon, I think only the pictures will remain," an old shopkeeper remarks.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.