The tales of Karachi’s love for old books

Published: July 13, 2017

Amaanullah Khan, a passionate reader, set up a small-scale hut-shaped book stall at Tariq Road approximately eight or nine years ago. PHOTO: FAIZA VIRANI/ SANIA NATHANI

We’ve heard stories about their utilisation plenty of times. You can see exactly where the fingerprints grazed the pages. You can deduce how long it was held by the depth of the finger stains. This is none other than a depiction of an old book.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that places too much importance on new books, rather than old ones. Why is it that new things are considered more valuable than old things? There might be a time in the future when books will be published for a specific audience and the physicality of reading material will become extinct.

However, there are a handful of individuals who still believe that books have the power to produce knowledgeable individuals. Luckily, there are still people in Karachi who believe that old books have a particular essence of originality which fresh or digital books might fail to deliver. Old rotten books have their own value and worth, which is beautifully expressed by some old book stakeholders.

Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu Pakistan since 1903

 Mohammad Maroof recalled the following instance with a kind smile on his face,

Baba e Urdu (Moulvi Abdul Haq) brought all these books (refer to the picture above) from India himself. These weren’t only books, these were our heritage packed in boxes.”

Maroof, who has been serving as the manager of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi for 35 years, further briefed us about the founding date of the public library in India, which dates back to 1903.

The library in Karachi was set up in 1948 and holds more than 300 books on a multitude of subjects written in Urdu. Students and book lovers from all over the country visit the library to enjoy ancient literature and historical books.

Call it a museum or a world of classical books, the shelves of the library have plenty of volumes and hand-writings from all eras. More than 60,000 books, magazines, letters and researches were kept in the library upon the instructions of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah after Partition.

Apart from Urdu, there are books written in HindiArabic, Persian and English. The library has preserved all the religious books in their original form as well. A century-old copy of the Holy Quran, Geeta and Bible are kept amongst old religious books. All ancient books are preserved through a fumigation process during which books are kept in a fumigation chamber for 24 hours and preserved for six months.

“Rukoon tou manzilain hi manzilain, chaloon tou raasta koi nahe hai.                                                                     

Khuli hain khirkiyan har ghar ki lekin, gali mai jhankta koi nahe hai.”

(Destinations are all around as I stop, but there’s no way when I walk

Every house has a window open but, no one looks from inside).

Urdu Bazaar’s ABC (American Books Centre)

Syed Muhammad Khalil is a 93-year-old book lover and has served as the former chairman of the All Pakistan Publishers Book Seller Association for five years and continues as the central committee member.

His love for books only intensified with time as he told us,

“I breathe books, my dear.”

This friend of Liaquat Ali Khan recalls the Partition time, when the ties of traveling with Ahmed Faraz had charm but no expense.

He went on to say,

“On the scale of literate to illiterate, the most literary people, in my perspective, still reside in Azizabad, LalukhetNazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and New Karachi.  Defence and Clifton are the most illiterate areas, when it comes to knowledge of books.”

Khalil takes his passion for books wherever he goes, be it a short trip to Delhi with family or an international trip to the world’s biggest book fair in Iran. Since 1944, three generations have played a part in keeping the legacy of ABC alive in Urdu Bazaar.

Spotless visions of Regal Chowk

Ishaaq baba, a bookstall vendor on the streets of Regal Chowk, has been selling books for 35 years now. When asked why he opts for selling books for a living when he can earn good money from a different trade, he responded saying that he loves books and prefers his quality time with them to anything else.

Ishaaq baba said,

“Our generation is sabotaging themselves by distancing themselves from books and spending more and more time on their phones. It’s my request to parents to motivate your children to read as many books as they can if they want to rule the world.”

Krishan Chandar is his favourite author and he has a keen interest in developmental literature. Perhaps the best way to spend more time with books is by making a profession out of it.

Thora hasslo bache (smile a little, child),” Ishaaq baba said to his grandson while posing for the picture above.

He brings his grandson with him every Sunday because he wants him to love books as much as he loves them himself.

Cluster of Books and Woods at Tariq Road

Amaanullah Khan, a passionate reader, set up a small-scale hut-shaped book stall at Tariq Road approximately eight or nine years ago. This 65-year-old has had various different experiences during the course of his life. From being in the telephone business to working as an oiler on a ship, Khan’s passion for books led him to establish his own little venture. Burdened by loans, the fervent man’s books helped him establish a business.

Dejectedly, Khan said,

“No one wants to read books. The young lot only reads fictional books rather than books on realism.”

Displaying a wide array of books, Khan picks out his favorite authors; Allama IqbalJane AustenAshfaq Ahmed and Charles Dickens.

All Photos: Faiza Virani and Saniya Nathani

Arishba Khan

Arishba Khan

The writer is currently a journalism student at Institute of Business Management. She confesses to be impetuous and likes profiling people.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SOmeone

    “gali mai jhankta koi nahe hai” , “Every house has a window open but, no one looks inside”

    Translation is wrong. it should be

    “Every house has a window open but, no one looks from inside”Recommend

  • Parvez

    ‘ Hard copies of books will become obsolete ‘…….. WHEN ? Certainly not in my lifetime, nor in that of my children or grandchildren or their children or their’s as well …… News papers and other publications whose shelf life is short and their contents can be covered by electronic sound bites will shrink……but books, I doubt they will become obsolete.Recommend

  • Sane

    This is lacking at part of parents, Mostly do not read books and also do not inculcate this to their children. Our schools also focus on syllabi, limited to course/subject books and do not promote book reading in general. We eat pizza and junk food worth Rs. 1,000/- to Rs. 2,000/- generally and when comes to books even not ready to spend Rs. 500/- to Rs. 800/- being books are very ‘expensive’. This is downfall of society. Electronic reading of book does not equate with a book in hand.Recommend

  • Salman Haider

    I am the living victim of modern technology. Five years ago I was a bibliophile ie a bookworm. I would read books so much I didn’t want to go to even sleep at night. I was just crazy about the mere thought of books. But sadly they I got my mobile phone, my craze for books started to diminished at a fast pace. Wish I could regain that old passion for book reading once again.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    A tablet/kindle can be held in hand, pretty much like a book. Ebooks come with adjustable fonts that can be made bigger or smaller for reading preferences. Even audiobooks are available now, with text on screen while you can listen to it with headphones.

    A number of sites have popped up with big libraries of books that you can read for free. No charge. You can download their app and read any books available in their library. In return they put an advert at the top or bottom of your screen which could be an annoyance but most magazines we buy at the bookstalls already come with pages and pages full of adverts.

    The problem is these free ebooks are mostly pirated and illegal. If that is a concern you could buy the legal e-copy. But most people have no problems getting books for free.

    In the future publishers and authors would do well to make sure they publish ebooks and not just hard copies. Because if they don’t, someone, somewhere will make a pdf version and upload it for free.Recommend