Bookworms’ heaven ends ties with Connaught Place

- May 30, 2023
| By : Vivek Shukla |

The Central News Agency was definitely a different bookshop, for the simple reason that here no staff member used to object if some customer started reading a book or newspaper and did it for hours together

EMPTY: The shop housing the Central News Agency in P Block of Connaught Place is deserted nowadays. (Photo: Khurram Habib)

The ‘P’ block of Connaught Place would not be the same as bookworms that thronged there won’t visit it anymore.

Their favourite place – Central News Agency (CNA) — has shut down after serving the cause of all those who are fond of reading newspapers, magazines and books.

It was there in Connaught Place since 1953 and had regular clients like Khushwant Singh, Inder Kumar Gujral, Vishnu Prabhakar, MF Hussain and Nirmal Verma.

Noted author and journalist, Trilokdeep was devastated to learn about CNA shutting down in CP.

“I have been buying Indian and foreign newspapers and journals from there since the mid-1960s. I do not remember when I did not get what I wanted to buy from there. CNA was a dream shop as it gave fair chance to customers to read there for as long as they felt like.”

Remember, it is CNA that supplies newspapers to President’s House, Prime Minister’s House and Delhi-based foreign missions since long.

Favourite spot for bookworms

CNA was definitely a different bookshop, for the simple reason that here no staff member used to object if some customer started reading a book or newspaper and did it for hours together. Actually, the staffers had standing orders from their owner to not ask anybody to leave the place. That was the major reason why CNA attracted generations of bookworms.

If CNA got such a special place in the hearts of Delhiites, it is thanks to the sheer vision of its founder Chairman RP Puri.

“Due to financial reasons, I had to abandon my studies after matriculation. My plans to do higher studies never became a reality. Perhaps that is why I always tell my staffers to let the genuine reader read books in CNA [for] as long as he wants. I developed this attitude because [I feel] the poor too have a right to study and love books. It must not become the privilege of the rich,” Puri had once told this writer.

Puri started his career as a newspaper vendor in late 1930s.

He passed away a couple of years ago and was an utterly interesting guy with a plethora of anecdotes to share. He shifted to Delhi in 1937 from Shimla. He was living there with his elder brother, who asked Puri to leave studies and become a newspaper vendor to support the family.

Their father passed had away when he was barely eight.

The necessary work

“I was devastated when my brother asked me to work instead of going to college. I realised later that he was not wrong as our financial condition was very precarious.”

He started working as a newspaper vendor in Shimla in 1936. He used to walk more than 40 kilometres daily to distribute papers. As one can’t ride bicycles in Shimla, vendors had to do their job on foot.

After just one year in Shimla, Puri came to Delhi in 1937. Those were the days when except for The Statesman, newspapers like The Hindustan Times, Veer Arjun and Daily Milap used to be published from Naya Bazaar in Chandni Chowk.

“Those days I used to get up at 3.30 in the morning and go to Mori Gate. There, newspapers from Lahore like The Tribune and Civil and Military Gazette would arrive in vans. After collecting their copies, I would collect the copies of Delhi-based papers before coming to CP to finally collect the copies of The Statesman. I had one assistant even then. I distributed papers in Gole Market and Minto Road.”

As Puri tasted success in his work, he started selling newspapers and magazines from ‘P’ block.

Recalling those days, he once said, “With this new venture, I was earning well and saving too. In early 40s, I took some space in ‘P’ block to sell books, newspapers and news magazines.”

CNA connections with ex-Pak president

When the then President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf visited Delhi in 2001, Puri called yours truly at CNA. He was sounding as if he wanted to share something special.

When I reached CNA, Puri narrated to me a very fascinating story about Musharraf and his family’s Delhi connections.

“I used to supply newspaper at his Barron Road residence before 1947 in Delhi, which was allotted to his father, Musharrafuddin.”

According to Puri, Musharraf’s father was a senior government servant. The house at Barron Road was allotted to him by the government. Barron Road was part of Minto Road.

“I used to spend time with him very often. He was a very gentle and decent man. It is not true that Pervez Musharraf lived at Neharwali Haveli at Daryaganj [as was being reported in the media]. It was the house of his mother’s parents. He spent his childhood at Barron Road itself,” Puri claimed.

Incidentally, the government flats where Musharraf’s father used to live with his family were demolished around 15 years ago and there the huge city centre, head office of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) was built.

The new owners

Meanwhile, it is said that some medical equipment showroom will start from where CNA was operating. Sources say that CNA owners had to vacate the place due to a protracted property dispute.

“We are shifting to Bhagat Singh Market and Jhandewalan,” informs a CNA spokeswoman.

Despite their new location, old CNA faithful are feeling shattered as they won’t find their favourite CNA in Connaught Place. That fact is not easy to accept for many, many. It also remains to be seen if it will retain its popularity away from Delhi’s iconic market.