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In photos: the madness and claustrophobia of the Harper Collins book sale

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The warehouse at 14/6, Sector 27, Faridabad, had never seen those many people before.

By 11 am, 24 June, one kulfiwala had set up shop outside the building. The paanwala at the end of the lane witnessed his career record sales of Mountain Dew. Autowalas on the highway collected at the mouth of the road. "Itna traffic kis liye? (Why is there so much traffic?)"

Onlookers gathered to watch fights break out. One red-faced man shrieked for water. Another howled for his son, who had been left outside. Two women solemnly exchanged notes on how this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

And by 12.40pm, an hour and a bit later, the two-day Harper Collins Warehouse sale was declared over. The sale had lasted 2 and a half hours.

It was sooner than we had expected. We had expected them to survive lunch.

1. Circa 9.40 am: Outside warehouse

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

All paperbacks at Rs 25. All hard-covers at Rs 30. All coffee-table books at Rs 90. And all box sets at 90% off. Those were the promises that brought 5,000 people to the warehouse in the first two hours of day one of the sale.

2. 9.55am: The single entry gate of the warehouse opens

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

Game face.

3. 10.05am: Inside the warehouse premises

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

At this point, only a small fraction of the crowd outside was allowed entry into the warehouse premises. They were asked to write their names on a list.

Someone from Harper called out names. Those whose names were called out were allowed to enter the warehouse.

Hundreds of people. Entering name by name.

4. The lucky ones

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

Correction. The lucky one. The first person exiting the book sale emerged with a box set of Buddha, a collector's edition of The Hobbit, and a pile that looked like this.

All told, he spent less than Rs 700.

5. 10.45am: Inside warehouse

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

They tired of the enter-when-your-name-is-announced system. At 10.40 am, at one go, hundreds were allowed inside.

"No photographs!" someone shrieked, when we took this.

6. 11.15am: Someone distributed boxes

Photo: Sneha Vakharia

Inside the warehouse, here's what you were most likely to find:

Buckets of romantic fiction. Trunks of books about One Direction. If you were lucky, you'd spot a lone Chimamanda Ngozei Adichie. Or an old Jonathan Franzen. Or a damaged Hillary Mantel. Maybe a Hartosh Singh Bal.

And if you were really lucky, you'd find a Lord of the Rings Sketch Book.

By 11 am, all the good stuff was gone. You likely found a few former bestsellers, the less famous books by Booker Prize winners who won the Booker for other books and one, maybe two, new discoveries.

I purchased a book because RK Laxman had declared it a "good effort" (Standards drop significantly when you're paying Rs 25 rupees)

But congratulations! Once you'd gathered your trousseau, you had to crawl your way to a counter where your books would be counted, for which you had to stand for 30 minutes in the June sun, just so someone could (maybe, if you begged enough and pushed enough and outraged enough) make you a bill.

And congratulations again, because you now had to find a counter that would accept cash and stamp your receipt. Another half an hour at a separate counter for this.

If you were paying by card, then a third congratulations was due. Because there was one card machine to process 5,000 customers and one lakh books. And it was placed in the security guard's office.

And if, by a great feat of grit and tolerance of the Delhi summer sun, you survived, then you were tired, smelling, lugging a box of books on foot, and in a far corner of Faridabad. But you also had a grin a mile wide.

Edited by Ranjan Crasta

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First published: 26 June 2016, 4:16 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.