Words talk, not price tags
The aged and astute books at the Sunday bazaar continue to live in the hearts of many aspiring readers
By Qudsia Sajjad
The best book deals are
available at the Sunday book bazaar.
Near Anarkali, right on
Mall Road, if one wanders into the side lane that opens onto all the tyre
shops, you will find books lying on the floor on canvas sheets, being
displayed on a wheel cart, on some makeshift rickety tables.
Here, when you buy a
book, you just carry it. No shopping bags, thank you. Not only because the
sellers are conscious of the environment but also because the cost of
shopping bags is just not suitable for the economic model of the Sunday
book bazaar. It’s not brand management because no bookseller here would
bother with an envelope that carries a shop logo. The old book (you carry)
speaks for itself. The customers are loyal and most keep coming back in
search of all sorts of books. Some come for a bargain while some for a
Here the most successful
books are those that do not have a long shelf life at the book sellers’.
The Sunday book bazaar
brings to my mind all those obsolete titles that end up under the awnings.
Some books end up here because they have outlived their heyday like
the ones written by Jackie Collins. Very few people would be caught with
them in the days of (The) Vampire Dairies and (The) Hunger Games. The
titles on display give intriguing information about the reading taste of
Lahorites as well as the average student who frequents the place.
The first collection by
a bookseller contained all those Urdu novels from a time when novels were
written with an eye to women’s social education. One could spot ‘Ghazala’,
and ‘Safaid Kalian’, both claiming to set social ills to rights with
the tag line “aik islahi ma’asharti novel”. Another strange yet
fascinating title mentioned a British secret agent. No, your guess is
wrong. It is not 007. It is someone called S23. And it’s in Urdu,
authored by Nawab Yazdani. Sounds like a pen name. The book happens to be
a bright yellow paperback. Another (interesting) one is a moth eaten crime
story of the reality-crime fiction type, made popular by Capote and
Mailer. The cover promises the real story in the mind of the criminal.
When you leaf through the pages, you realise that it starts when the
criminal celebrity (the author was bothered enough to write a book) was a
babe in arms. The book gives you crime as well as a Freudian analysis of
Some of the novels in
great demand at these old book sellers are the romance novels. One title
on display was by a writer named Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. I wonder if anyone
is reading Woodiwiss these days.
Women always make up a
large group of the novel reading public. In lots of cases first
preferences are romantic stories. According to Kaleem, one of the most
seasoned book sellers here, novels are in high demand among women, the
ones currently being read are of the Urdu novelist, Umera Ahmed. The
interesting part is that most of those novels are serialised on television
but people still want to read them as they appear in episodes (or to see
how the story in the drama digresses from the book). Of all the people
reading Umera Ahmed’s work, at least three out of ten are male. This
information simply busts the myth that people don’t read because of the
(mass usage and easy availability of) television.
People don’t read
because of laziness, because of lack of inspiration to read. If the former
were the case then the Sunday book bazaars would have vanished a long time
Even though the book
sellers here do feel as if the habit of book reading is vanishing, there
can be other factors to explain why this is happening. A change in reading
habits for example. One generation’s reading tastes can be very
different from another’s. And the old book trade is about old books, not
new ones. Kaleem has been in this trade for a long time, 15 years at the
least, and he still finds a good group of loyal customers willing to read
anything that they can. Some of the titles in great demand are the Wimpy
Kid Diaries and Nicholas Sparks. Obviously they are newer titles, and the
only way they can be available at such a low price is if they are pirated
or some single copy has trickled down to the used book collection.
the Urdu novels sold here are new editions, not used books. Along with old
books, the booksellers charge very little profit for these titles. They
are simply available because of public demand and not because they fall in
the used book category. This must be working upon the psychology of the
book buyer; that someone who buys a new book at a lesser price would
probably be tempted to buy a couple of books from the all-books-for-20
rupee pile, as opposed to one hundred rupee book.
The literary canon in
our colleges also feeds from the Sunday book bazaar. Nearly always, titles
in syllabi, especially those in the English literature syllabi of
different colleges, are available here (as opposed to stores such as
Readings or Staples?). I was searching for John Masters and I found an
absolutely obscure book by him lying unnoticed on a pile of old books. The
highlight of the visit was a cup of tea amongst the books (admist the
smell of disintegrated pages but words that echoed of vivid tales) and a
gift of a book from one of the booksellers for being a very old and
As a matter of personal
interest, I asked one of the book sellers if people still read le Carre
and Chase and Sydney Sheldon. This is what he had to say. “Old men show
up sometimes, asking for John le Carre and James Hadley Chase. And people
still read Sydney Sheldon. Demand for that one has not lessened.”
June, July and
August. These months signal complete and utter bliss, no conditions
attached, to the hundreds of fresh faced students who took their O’level
exams in May.
For some students, the
vacations are 90 days of lazing around and realising that all the dreams
you savoured of a blast-filled time while hunching over textbooks simply
won’t come true. For the rest comes with a more important
I am talking not of the
future bankers or artists of this country, but of the doctors.
As these 16 year olds
watch season after season of the latest hit series online and check
Facebook in between, an oft-repeated question consists of only three
words: FSc or A levels?
The answer is usually
the alternative between continuing in your own school or hoping that you
get into Kinnaird (for girls) or Government College (for boys).
While hanging out with
friends, one such teenage girl, Sara, says: “Yaar, somebody just tell me
whether you have to dissect frogs in Kinnaird. If you don’t, I’ll do
For her, it is an easy
decision, but for many others, it is usually a confusing mash-up of what
they have heard all their elder brother’s friend’s cousins say. If one
sits in discussion of class fellows hanging out at restaurants, various
(and sometimes conflicting) rumours will be flying around. Some will tell
you that the ‘merit will fall’ if you apply to government medical
universities after A levels, and how very few A level students get into a
class of hundreds. Some will say that the entry exams to universities is
based on the FSc course, while others will claim that it is
‘fifty-fifty’, but the FSc part is easier to prepare for as there is
no fixed book for A levels. There will be horror tales of A level students
taking crash courses of FSc for the sake of doing well in the entry exams,
and facing fill in the blank MCQs consisting of exact sentences lifted
from anywhere in the textbook.
There will also be
light-hearted banter amongst the different groups, bashing the other for
rote-learning books (‘even comprehensions!’) and continuing to study
Pakistan Studies, a subject most are done with by O levels. Then there are
the jokes questioning why anyone would want to become a doctor in the
first place, teasing the many aspiring dentists for putting their hands in
Sara defends her
decision: “Surgery is cutting up people; medicines — I don’t care
about medicines; and dentistry — hello, I will be putting instruments in
people’s mouths, not my hand.”
It is still July, but a
few are taking tuitions (yes, in that one vacation when you actually have
the right to laze around!) for FSc in different academies.
Basically, a month after
‘the most important exams of their life,’ the race has begun once
again. It is easy to hope that they were back in school doing O levels,
roaming in school, joking around with the teachers and cursing the O in
‘O’ levels for standing for Ordinary.
But the ordinary stuff
hasn’t entirely been dealt with. The clock is ticking nightmarishly fast
to the result day in August. Some have left the final decision pending
And why shouldn’t
they? It is an important decision, and one which requires much thought.
Teenagers already have enough on their plate, and now have to make this
one decision that has the potential to affect them years down the road.
The decisions never end
though, I realise, when another one pitches into the conversation from
across the table, “Hey, which school are you going to do A levels
Calligraphy by Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani at Punjab Council of the Arts, The
Mall to open on Tuesday, July 31 at 6:00 pm. The exhibition will remain
open till Aug 6 from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm daily.
*Lecture on Ethics of
Disagreements on Wednesdays till August 15 at Hast-o-Neest Centre for
Traditional Art and Culture. Timings: 3:00-4:00pm.
*Comedy Junction at The
Knowledge Factory (TKF) for the last Sunday, today, at 7:30pm.
An Islamic Architecture Exhibition at the Hast-o-Neest Centre for
Traditional Art and Culture since July 15, continuing up till August 1.
*Farsi, Arabic and
Calligraphy lessons at the Hast-o-Neest Centre for Traditional Art and
Culture for the month of Ramazan till August 18. Short courses are also
The next big thing after
Ramzan moon, that heralds beginning of the month of fasting, is the small
mound of dates lying on your dining table. Go a day back, this sweet and
juicy fruit is not a part of your life. But throughout the length of this
month, it’s your stable diet and no iftari (fast-breaking) can be
complete without it.
The craze for this
“heavenly fruit” is such that certain kinds of dates are imported from
as far as Iran and Saudi Arabia to add variety to the hundreds of locally
produced types available in the country. It may come as a surprise for
many but it’s a fact that Pakistan is fourth or fifth largest producer
of dates in the world. It has switched these positions several times
depending on the fluctuations in yearly yields.
Pakistan exports around
18 per cent of its approximate total annual yield of half a million tones
and the rest remains in the country for local consumption. Do locals
consume this whole stock? The answer is yes but the surprising fact is
that most of this stock lies in cold storages since harvest and brought in
the market in Ramzan.
People who fast, eat
dates mainly for two reasons ‑ first it was the tradition of the
Prophet to break fast with dates and second, it is an instant source of
energy, says Sheikh Mushtaq, a wholesale dealer in Badami Bagh fruit
market. “You have a few minutes to break fast before you go to perform
Maghrib prayers. Two or three dates fill you with enough energy to perform
this religious obligation.” Mushtaq adds this quality is known only to
those who do not spend an hour on dining table and skip Maghrib prayers.
Being a stockist of
dates for long, he thinks this year was a disaster for investors. Those
who invested and stocked dates in cold storage houses were not aware that
fresh yield will arrive in the market during Ramzan. This has increased
selling pressure on them and they are disposing off their stocks at lower
than earlier prices. If they do not get rid of them before fresh supply
arrives, nobody would buy their product because of storage costs involved,
The price of Aseel dates
which was Rs 6,000 per maund at the start of Ramzan has come down to Rs
4,000 per maund but the retailers have not passed on the benefit to the
consumers. They are sold from Rs 200 per kg to Rs 250 per kg. Iranian Bam
dates named after its city Bam are available for Rs 210 per half kg bag
and dates from Saudi Arabia are priced as high as Rs 400 to Rs 600 per kg.
Arrival of Sindhi dates
in local market starts in late July or early August and monsoon rains are
disastrous for the crop. That’s why growers hang amulets with tree
trunks and pray the harvest season passes without rain.
This means next year
dates will be arriving after Ramzan and would have to be stocked for the
whole year to be marketed in Ramzan, says Mushtaq who thinks the storage
costs involved would push the prices upwards significantly.
On dates’ consumption
in times other than Ramzan, Muhammad Jameel, a street vendor in Walled
City, says they are consumed as energy drinks. Every other juice and milk
shake corner is offering Khoya Khajoor shake to its customers, he says.
Jameel tells TNS many
people who return from Umra or Haj buy local dates which resemble Saudi
dates in taste and colour, in large quantities. These dates are mixed with
the handful of dates they have brought from Saudi Arabia and distributed
among friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances as gift from the
holy land. There is more than one shop at Beadon Road which sells fresh
dates throughout the year, he says, adding: “I am not talking about
chohara (dry date) which is distributed with sweets in nikah ceremonies
and has a vast market.”
Jameel shares with TNS
there is a big Khajoor Mandi in Layari, Karachi, comprising hundreds of
shops who sell dates throughout the year. They also import dates from
Saudi Arabia and sell it to returning pilgrims who cannot bring them in
large quantity due to weight restrictions imposed by airlines. “Such
pilgrims think it’s not fair to cheat people by giving them local dates
in the name of those brought from Makkah and Madina.”
Dates are produced in
all the four provinces but Khairpur and Sukkur are the main districts
contributing to around 40 to 45 percent of the country’s date
production. Varieties like Rabai and Begam Jangi of Balochistan, Aseel of
Sindh and Dhakki of Dera Ismail Khan are popular worldwide and exported to
countries including USA, China, Nepal, India, Canada and Denmark.
In Pakistan, dates are
also used as ingredients in a type of halwa, bakery products, rice served
with Sajji and also as an energy diet when cooked in milk. Dates are
instant remedy for patients of hypoglycemia ‑ a condition in which a
person’s blood sugar gets too low, says Babar Ali, a nutritionist and
expert in herbal medicine. “Such patients are advised to keep dates with
them as contents of a date mix in bloodstream fast and normalise the blood
sugar level instantly.”
No Ramzan iftari
can pass-by without having the traditional Ramzan delicacies namely
pakoras, samosas, dahi bharey and jalebi. These delicacies make every
Ramzan a festive occasion with families, friends and relatives having a
time of their lives while consuming such scrumptious foods.
The city is crowded with
roadside vendors and part-time pakoraywalas who would stay throughout the
month of Ramzan. A couple of vendors and eateries caught my eye this week.
The first of these
eateries is Mahmood Sweets. For those of us who live in Lahore and
specifically in Cavalry Ground or the Cantt Area, it
is an eatery not alien to us serving Lahoris for the past two
decades, they have indeed created a name for themselves.
While talking to the
owner’s brother who overlooks the operations of the bakery nowadays, he
very proudly says: “With God’s blessing the profit we earn during
Ramzan is three times the amount we earn during the rest of the year.”
The place offers an assortment of Ramzan related eatables which range from
sandwiches to frozen rolls and samosas as well as fried rolls and samosas.
Jalebis and pakoras are of course there. The list doesn’t end there.
Mahmood Sweets’ widely acclaimed dahi phulkian are described by the
owners as a speciality.
“Launched in Ramzan
2003, there hasn’t been any looking back ever since. We sell almost
fifty to sixty kilos of these dahi phulkis daily. The fact that we prepare
our dahi phulkis with cream while keeping in mind the taste of our
esteemed customers who would prefer to have something cool at iftar time,
makes this product customers’ favourite. These dahi phulkis are covered
with raisins and chaat masala, giving them a unique taste that customers
In the shop filled with
customers, jumping upon one another to get their share of the famous dahi
phulkis in order to head back home at the earliest, a customer Mrs.
Hassan says “My children and husband absolutely love these phulkis which
are a regular feature on our iftar table and their cool and sweet aura
makes them all the more special. Everyday
on my way back from the office, I grab a kilo of these phulkis and rush
While Mahmood Sweets
comfortably sits on the corner of the main Cavalry Ground Commercial Area,
not all part-time Ramzan vendor has the same advantage.
On my way back from
work, I happened to buy pakoras from a vendor on the crowded and bustling
Davis Road and I couldn’t help ask him about his business. This said
stand is run by a gentleman known as Asif. Not only does Asif have a
separate day job — year round he also runs a home-made food business
which supplies lunch to the nearby offices day in and day out. “As you
know, during Ramzan the home-food business temporarily shuts down as
everyone is fasting. However, to compensate for this, I revert to the
Iftar stand which sells pakoras, samosas and dahi bhaley which proves to
be more profitable than my actual business. Tired workers heading back
home in the bottleneck traffic as well as reporters in the newspaper
offices which are open till late in the night, are my regular
customers,” explains Asif.
During the month of
Ramzan, every sehri and iftari end up in festivity. While some of us
pleasure ourselves while eating and chirping with our families, others
drool over the profits earned from side businesses as they sell pakoras
and various other Ramzan delicacies. Everyone, and each stakeholder has a
story to tell. Who knows, the next pakora you consume may have an
intriguing story associated with it.
On the road to
Ravi, that is, Bund Road, this man straightens thousand canes a day in the
foundry specially prepared to bake canes to become useful. He gets 60
paisas to straighten one cane. His wages are calculated by paisas when the
word ‘paisa’ has become history for others in this country. Imagine
the humidity and heat that he bears with in this job. Will the Labour
Ministry look into this exploitation.