books business continues to thrive
By Qadeer Tanoli
The used books business is thriving in the metropolis, although most dealers talk about a declining trend in book reading among the people of the city. The trade continues to flourish due to several factors, chief among them is the high level of inflation; the prices of new books have simply gone beyond the common citizens” reach.
There are a number of outlets in different parts of the city where one can whet their appetite of reading. For the last several years, the Sunday Bachat Bazaar of old books at Regal Chowk, Saddar, continues to play an important role in this context. Generally, wholesale dealers of old books visit the Regal Sunday Bachat Bazaar to purchase their required books which are subsequently placed for sale in their respective outlets.
There are dozens of such outlets in Clifton, Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal where one can find a variety of second-hand books to suit every taste. There is a well-known second-hand book spot at Nazimabad No2, next to the Saifullah Bangash restaurant, which is visited by a large number of book lovers every day. There is one such popular outlet in Paposh, three in the adjoining area of Gol Market and a few in Hyderi. There is also a second-hand book spot at the 2K bus stop in Nazimabad.
There are certain outlets for old books in the city that can even provide those books which are either rarely available or their prices are far too high in regular bookshops. These old books outlets not only cover a variety of themes but languages as well. Generally, they deal in books which are published either in English or Urdu. However, books in Sindhi, Punjabi and even Persian can also be found at these places.
There are several shops in Urdu Bazaar which not only deal in new books but sell a variety of old books too. These shops have a diverse collection of classic literature, both in English and Urdu languages, besides providing second-hand curriculum books to students at extraordinarily economical rates.
Khori Gardens is another haven for old books, and dozens of shops and pushcart dealers sell imported new and old books and magazines here. Even buyers from other cities place their orders for books from this area. The bookshops at Khori Gardens are located in a single congested street near Boulton Market where a vast variety of books and magazines are sold. Khori Gardens is named after a family that used to live in the area before Partition. During the “80s, business in the area boomed and the market became a hub for low-priced books.
The work of any author, such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, John Keats, EM Foster and many others, can be purchased from these spots at throwaway prices. Generally, a book of classic fiction or poetry can be purchased here for as little as Rs50 to Rs100. The price tags for Urdu classics are always higher here, in contrast to the English ones.
Book dealers based in the area said different libraries of the country, especially in Karachi and Lahore, also purchase books from this market because of the low price tags. A book that is normally sold for Rs1, 000 can easily be purchased from here at Rs250 or even less.
The dealers who have proper shops in the market mainly handle the wholesale business. When asked about the source of supply, the dealers informed that the books are generally imported from Singapore and some other countries in containers.
Meanwhile, across the city, a dealer in old books, Irfan-ul-Haq, who owns a bookshop near Gol Market, Nazimabad, informed Kolachi that the passion for reading among the public is declining with every passing day. He said the golden era of reading books has become part of the past and the younger generation is less interested in reading books making the culture fading away. As a result, he believes the book business is taking a beating. “How the old books business is suffering can be gauged by the fact that a dealer who used to earn Rs1, 400 in day is hardly earning Rs400 these days,” he lamented.
Muhammad Salim, who runs second-hand book outlet adjacent to Jahangir Restaurant, Saddar, also laments the declining trend of reading. Salim only deals in English language books and his shop”s racks are stuffed with thousands of old books which can be purchased at economical rates. According to him, besides offering the available stocks in his shop he also loves to trace books from other places when some book lovers place an order for it.
However, Haq notified, there are book lovers who still want to read and they are always eager to buy any book of their interest from second-hand book outlets. He informed that generally students visit his shop to buy books for their syllabus at inexpensive rates. He said even medical students seek out relevant books from his stall, and if they don”t find the desired book they also place an order for it.
According to him, junk-dealers also constitute a major source for the supply of old books. Generally junk-dealers are sold books from someone”s home library, which they purchase by the kilo. However, he said, these people don”t resell the books to other dealers by weight and demand much higher prices of each book which they had purchased under the head of “junk”.
He told that over the years the junk-dealers have developed a great sense of judging books and thus now demand a price from their customers accordingly.
Haq said sometime these junk-dealers even come across rare books or even centuries old books. “A few years back, I made a deal with a junk-dealer for old books in which a hand-written Persian book was also included. This book was basically the history of a Mughal emperor,” he narrated. The sad part of the story is that one of his friends got a hold of that book and he never returned it to its original owner.
According to Haq, Sydney Sheldon”s novels sell like hot cakes to booksellers as well as the novels of Harold Robins and Agatha Christie as it takes no time and effort to sell them.
Moreover, he said, the Urdu novels of writers like AR Khatoon, Razia Butt and Salma Kanwal are still requested especially by female customers, while the older readers prefer to buy the works of Mumtaz Mufti, Qudratullah Shahab and some other writers.
Known spots of used books
- The Sunday Bachat Bazaar of old books at Regal Chowk, Saddar, is one of the most highlighted places for used books among the book-lovers.
- Nazimabad No2 is also a well-known second-hand book spot, which is next to Saifullah Bangash restaurant.
- Urdu Bazaar, besides dealing in new books, sells a variety of old books too.
- Additionally, the 2K bus stop in Nazimabad is a known second-hand book spot.
- Also there are popular outlets in Paposh, three in the adjoining area of Gol Market and a few in Hyderi too.
- Dozens of shops and pushcart dealers sell imported new and old books and magazines at Khori Gardens which is also another haven for old books.
– The News photos
by Zahid Rahman
By Meena Ahmed
When you enter the small room and allow your eyes to wander around it, all you can see are books and other reading material. They are on shelves, on the dining table, the centre table. They even occupy a large portion of the only sofa present in the room, as well as the reading table and the sideboards. This is the personal library of Air Commodore (Retd.) M.M. Alam, the fighter pilot and hero of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, housed in his current residence at PAF Faisal Base.
Alam was born into a reading culture at his home in united India and has continued his profound bonding with books. As for his personal collection, he said that he has started collecting books since he had started his career as a fighter pilot. “When I was based in Peshawar as a pilot officer, I started spending money on buying books,” he said.
Two places in Peshawar, Saeed Book Bank and London Bookshop, were the most frequently visited bookstores where he used to spend hours. “I used to visit these two bookstores to buy books, and with the passage of time the owners became friends too. As a result, I used to stay there for long and hold constructive discussions on various topics with other book lovers, which included university students and intellectuals,” recalled Air Commodore Alam with a smile.
Being the eldest among the siblings, Alam said that after his father”s death he took care of a family comprising 12 members. As a result all his earnings were spent on his family. As soon his siblings started settling down, the air commodore started purchasing books which ultimately ended up as a large personal library. “Since, I was the eldest, I had to take care of my family, and therefore, I used to spend on nothing else except fulfilling my family”s needs. But now, since they all are well-settled in their lives, I can think spending on myself,” he smiled.
The inclination towards exploring things did not confine him to reading books alone. The air commodore is also keen to collect other sources of information which range from newspapers and research journals to magazines. At present, he subscribes to five foreign and local magazines not counting international research journals.
At his current residence, at PAF Faisal Base, Air Commodore Alam has almost 500 books in his possession, which have been collected over the past seven years since he moved to Karachi in 2004 from the capital city. “I spend hours at a local bookstore to get a hold of the books that I enjoy. Thus, my collection has gone over the number of 500 here alone,” he said. On closer inspection it was clear that more shelves have added in his home to accommodate his collection.
His initial collection included books on the air force and fighter jets. However, his current collection comprises a wide range of books on diverse subjects. From science, to politics, history to religions, philosophy to arts and culture, the list seems never-ending.
In addition to his Karachi library, the air commodore is the sole and proud owner of around 4,000 valued books at his original residence at Chaklala Base in Rawalpindi. “My collection here covers not even 10 percent of what I own at my original residence. My library there holds a huge range of books including classic literature and fiction which is only available there. I also possess a whole collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica,” he commented while giving a tour of his book collection.
The well-maintained books on the shelves give the impression that they have not been touched once, until one opens the books and discovers phrases and words underlined and highlighted. “For my own memory, I underline the important lines and words. This is the way I read and use my books,” said the air commodore.
The retired fighter pilot is disappointed by the current status of libraries in the city, a fact that motivated him to collect his own books. “Unfortunately, we do not have good libraries here, otherwise I would not have spent so much money in purchasing these books,” he commented.
One could not resist asking him after the tour of his
book collection how long it takes him to finish reading a thick book , say of
800 pages or more, since the bookshelves mostly carry such tomes. He replied,
He laughed when asked who will look after his collection after him as he is single. His mother used to urge him to get married so that he could have a spouse to take care of his belongings, especially his vast collection of books. “On a personal note, I never thought of who would take care of my book collection,” he smiled.
“This is also a way of living, where one”s life
revolves around knowledge. This is my way of living,” remarked the air
commodore while sharing his experience of living a life among books.