Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Old Book Shop's Tradition in Pakistan

My living room's book shelf holding my father and
grand father's best buys -some are 130 years old book

Lahore is the most fascinating city of Pakistan. It feels like you have magically become a part of the famous book - One Thousand and one Nights (Alif Laila). With thousands of years of history behind it, new and interesting stories and lives keep unfolding here. When I was visiting Lahore, I did NOT want to go back home but stayed out, walked around and walked more until my feet gave up. Even if one tries his/her best, it is quite unlikely that they will know Lahore to its full.

People are so friendly and welcoming still that I doubt if this is Pakistan of today unlike Islamabad, my hometown - a culturally dead city. Islamabad has nothing to offer except concrete barriers, machine gunners, barbed wires, check post, foreign refugees ( not the IDPs), a huge number of madrassas and ugly construction sites all over. Oh yes, I forgot to mention safe heavens of the rich, tucked in a corner of the city.

On my visit what strike me the most in Lahore include: the number of motorbikes. Yes, Vietnam is no match, really. Another thing is: the (mis)use of animals such as bulls, oxen, horses and donkey  in the old city...which is real Lahore.
An Ox mistaken as a tractor in Lahore
Last thing: the stalls of old /used books - on pavements, near parks and near bazaars...it was so awesome. Now, if I have to compare the old book shops culture of Islamabad, which used to have many old book stores near Covered Market, Melody (place where the Lal Masjid episode unfolded) and Aabpara (in G-6 Sector) or Super Market in F-6 sector - they are simply wiped out. Depressing may be the right word to explain my feelings.

In Pakistan, we do NOT see people holding/reading a book or a magazine anymore. You will find them doing whatever but NOT reading - and that is a pointer to too many problems that we are facing as a nation at this point. Reading habit has almost died out and interest in books is almost gone. We may blame Google Books, free E-books and Project Gutenberg  as culprits however, in Pakistan's case their contribution is very marginal and it is unjust to blame online free books etc for the disappearance of old book shops. They used to cater to students, housewives, parents and even children for their favourite picks for nominal prices. It will be unfair not to mention that these old/used books and old book shops, in many ways, take us back in times.  I love the smell of these old books, their discolored and ripped apart cloth binding, really old first editions with old style hand-writings - they have such a character of their own but we are losing it slowly and calmly.

We can blame literacy, which has been a problem of Pakistan since its inception. The reason being that education was always at the bottom of the list of priorities for the governments. Education of masses is NOT in the best interests of the ruling classes (the ruling class strongly believe in slavery in Pakistan which is thriving in rural areas. By the way, all our senators and parliamentarians are also from the rural areas but from feudal backgrounds).

Anyhow, back to the old/used books - BBC Urdu has a very nice story from Lahore about Abdul Khaliq Sahib. He has his old book store on wheels. Even though his wife is against this business because at times, he can NOT sell a single book- he feels that it is his responsibility to bring books into the lives of the customers through his mobile shop in all the different neighborhoods of Lahore. He has about 5,000 books in his motorbike driven store. Recently he has started lending books to those who can NOT afford to buy books but still want to get hold of a book or two to read. In my view, Abdul Khaliq, a proud owner of a mobile old book store is a beacon of hope for many in our society who have, despite all odds, made a huge difference without even knowing about their contribution!