A large number of families were enjoying the cool Sunday afternoon, browsing through the books at the bookstalls set up at the Frere Hall, or Bagh-i-Jinnah, where the weekly book bazaar was relaunched. Some people had arrived there in limousines, some in other automobiles and many on their two-wheelers.

Earlier, commissioner of Karachi Iftikhar Ahmed Shalwani had inaugurated the relaunch of the book bazaar at a simple ceremony. Talking to the audience, the commissioner said lighting would be provided free in the evening and promised more facilities — such as seating arrangement and a canteen for tea and cold drinks — beginning next Sunday.

A few years ago the booksellers had decided to abandon the bazaar because of a lack of facilities and consequent shrinking number of visitors. The commissioner was praised by booklovers and intellectuals visiting the bazaar, saying the step would help rekindle the love of book in the people.

Saleem Bhai, the known owner of a now closed bookshop in Saddar, was talking to an old woman customer who was accompanied by her teenage son at his stall, saying: “Wise people think everything else is rubbish except book reading. Youngsters are wasting their precious time in frivolous activities such as mobile phones and the internet,” said Saleem. “They must be lured back to book reading. Books are more enjoyable and beneficial than the other activities youngsters are crazy about theses days.” Answering a question, he said he would soon reopen his Titbit bookshop opposite in the street where it originally was.

Mohammad Yousuf, a dealer in second-hand books, who has been running his business at a Regal Chowk footpath for over 35 years, was also there. He was happy at the revival of the bazaar. “A good number of people visited us today,” he said in the evening. “But we expect larger numbers next Sunday when more people will have learnt about it through the media.”

There were around 40 bookstalls, some of them set up by well-known publishers, including the one by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu. The book sellers were provided the space free. They also charged reasonable prices and offered good discounts. Those selling children’s books and stationery naturally attracted bigger crowds. Those selling second-hand and rare books also had good business.

Some booksellers were irritated by the loud music being played by the musicians on a stage close by to entertain the visitors. “This is not something appreciable at a place where serious people come to look for books,” said Yousuf. “It not only disturbs us, but also irks potential buyers.”

Many others, however, said live music was an effective way to attract people to the venue, some of who might buy books as well.


Originally published in Dawn, December 31st, 2018

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