May Day: A Visit to a Small Left-Leaning Bookstore in Delhi

This new year marked the 31st death anniversary of a renowned theatre activist Safdar Hashmi and the release of the book Halla Bol – a vivid account of Hashmi’s murder along with passionate stories on friendship, art and battles to build an inclusive world.

The discourse around Halla Bol and Hashmi’s death highlights the importance of May Day bookstore situated in East Delhi’s Shaadipur, in tandem with Safdar Studio next door. “The fundamental idea of Safdar Hashmi was to set up a Kitab Ghar for all ages,” recalls Moloyashree Hashim, secretary of the studio.

Amidst the beauty parlours, tailoring shops, carts of fruits and vegetable; the utterance of “biyasi (82) number” helps my rickshaw puller find the way to the studio. Its foundation were laid by Jan Natya Manch a noted left-leaning political street theatre group, of which Hashmi was also a part.

A bookshelf at May Day bookstore. Photo: Jyoti Thakur.

The bookstore’s significance lies in its shelves, where mainstream books – both in English and Hindi are stacked together with abundant of unpopular ones. The store is filled with literary fiction and non-fiction from independent publishers such as Navayana, Tulika and Aakar books.

“I won’t keep any of the Narendra Modi biographies that have flooded the market recently, though I wouldn’t mind keeping a critical, academic study of the man. Just as I won’t keep a biography of Mamata Banerjee. However, I wouldn’t mind keeping K. Natwar Singh’s memoirs because he is a literate man with some interesting stories to tell in the foreign policy space,” says Sudhanva Deshpande, managing editor of the bookstore, and an actor and director at the Jana Natya Manch.

Photo: Jyoti Thakur.

The bookstore was established on May 1, 2012 – the International Workers’ Day – reaffirming the struggles and commitment of workers across the world.

The store has books titled Manto, The Lynch Files, The Kashmir Dispute, Anarchism, The freedom theatre, Republic of caste, Minority studies – and others which intricately talk about important issues rare to find in books at libraries and fancy stores.

Besides, there are also books like Modinama, Hindutva Rising, The RSS: a menace to India and such in the form of political satires.

Deshpande believes, “A bookstore evokes its readers to intellectually enquire and investigate the reality around themselves rather than blindly accepting everything presented to them”.

Apart from the bookstore and the studio, the creators, every Sunday, run a library for children to engage them with books.

Shreenath, the bookseller at May Day, says, “We are a leftward bookstore, hence never limit ourselves from spreading the word on critical thinking and therefore, we endeavour to have books which denounce authorities and their vicious power structures”.

In the meantime, the floor opens for special events such as short performances, readings, book talks or sometimes just for casual conversations  all of which constitute in constructing a commodious and alluring reading hub where books, posters, images, signs, symbols and ideas, create an outlandish synergy.



Jyoti Thakur is a journalism student at Kalindi College, University of Delhi.

All images provided by the author