Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lack of bookshops in many areas of New Delhi

Now, all of you are aware of India as a country that is growing at about 9% per annum. That sounds great. I attended a National Policy Conference on Microfinance recently, where I learned that while our growth rate is about 8-9% per annum but poverty reduction is 1% per annum. So, there's an anomaly there. I understand that the present government, as well as the earlier governments of the last six decades since the Indian independence, have found it very difficult to reduce povery in an effective manner.

But what about the present efforts? What about the present allocation in the budgets? What about creating a stronger civil society? I know that government cannot be faulted for everything.

But there are some facts that would surely shock anyone. For instance, do you know that there are a number of areas in the Indian capital, New Delhi, which are completely devoid of good bookshops?

Let us take the case of South Delhi, the so-called premier disrict of the city. If you move from Badarpur Border which is one end of South Delhi and touches the Delhi-Haryana border at Faridabad and if you move from there towards Sarita Vihar, which is supposedly a prime area [with flat prices starting at Rs. 5 million [$130,000] for flats which are about 1000 sq feet]--> in that distance, from Badarpur Border to Sarita Vihar, you have certainly covered about six kilometers [four miles]. Now, if you moved from Sarita Vihar to the New Friends Colony complex, Sukhdev Vihar, Ishwar Nagar you are essentially speaking about exceptionally premium areas, where you have flats as well as pretty good bungalows. The bungalows that you have in these areas would start at least at Rs. 50 million [$ 1.25 million] for plot sizes of about 300 sq m.

By the way, you have something called the New Friends Colony Complex, where you also have the Surya Hotel, which is sometimes called Sofitel Surya or the Best Western Surya, which is a five star hotel. You even have a new multiplex there. And in this complex, you have McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Subway, and you also have Indian coffee chains such as Barista and Cafe Coffee Day. So, this isn't any god-forsaken place. It is certainly a prime location.

Then, if you went in another directon and wanted to touch another Delhi border, at Kalindi Kunj, you would have crossed the Jamia Millia Islamia University campus and you would need to traverse the entire length of Okhla to reach there. Now, when you began from Badarpur Border and reached the New Friends Colony complex, you would have covered a minimum of eight kilometers [six miles] and then, you can go ahead to Maharani Bagh and Ashram, which would add another two kilometers to your sojourn. And that is another prime area. And you have pretty bg celebrities staying there. One former Indian Prime Minister, Mr. I K Gujral stays there or used to and then, the husband of Ms. Priyanka Vadra [nee Gandhi] stays somewhere there or used to and you had the noted painter Satish Gujral, whose works and murals sell for a lot... staying there.... and you can name anyone and most of them stay in this area.

But you would have never seen a single bookshop worth anything in this entire region of about ten kilometers. Yes, you would find stationery shops, where you can buy envelopes and office supplies. But you wouldn't be abe to see a single good bookshop anywhere here. The area that I have referred to here has a great variety of people staying here. We have people, who are of different religions and who have come from various parts of the country, we have very rich people here, we have very educated people here. We have schools here and we have a University here. We have people who are quite poor who also stay here and they are the ones who should actually be getting such services.

Now, it isn't the government's fault and the government cannot monitor everything. But we should have some strong civil society groupsand people, who should give a thought to how our cities are shaping up. I don't have the money to set up a chain of bookstores, so, I can't do it. But we should seriously have more focus on increasing the reading public.

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