Dr. Zeba Hisam
(Published in DAWN Magazine on Sunday, November 17, 2002)

Whenever I see a new bookstore, I am thrilled. Going to a bookstore seems always adventurous. Setting up my own library is my dream. I feel sad on seeing a bookstore replaced by a garment or shoe shop. We have a declining number of bookstores. Most people are reluctant to take up reading. We have, in general, a lack of basic information seeking instinct.

We spend thousands of rupees on clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and accessories, but most of us can’t spare any money to buy a book. There are people who like to read books, but only after borrowing them from book lovers. They take these books and never return them to the rightful owner. The owner feels ashamed of continuously asking for its return. This is a hateful situation and sadly, our society is full of such people.

Most children remain ignorant and fail to develop book-reading habits as their parents are devoid of this habit and they don’t have any good books in the house. Even if the books are there, children ruin them by coloring or tearing them apart. There is hardly anyone to let them know about the value of books.

There were many bookstores, which do not exist now such as London Book House at Tariq Road, another one at Zebunnisa Street and many others that are now devoid of books. There is a nice shop called Oasis at Bahadurabad that initially had many books as well, but later on the books were replaced by gift items and stationary. I asked the shop owner why he did so. He replied that no one buys the books, and all the customers are fond of buying knick-knacks. Previously Universal Book Stores situated at Bahadurabad had an extensive collection of books, but now it mostly carries gift items, stationary and a less number of books. Even a bookstore with the name of Say Publishers does not have any information about the new local books coming in the market.

Recently, a few new bookstores display jumbo sale like one at Tariq Road and another near Gulistan School called Sagar Bookstore. The idea of holding a weekly books bazaar at Frere Hall is also good, but the books are expensive. The same books were available at Khori Garden at low prices. But even the sellers have now raised the prices of books at the latter.

Recently, the exhibition of books by Paramount was also interesting. I remember a ship called Logos arriving at the Kemari Harbor full of books many years ago. What a fantastic exhibition it was!

An amazing bookshop by the name of City Press Book Shop is situated near Zainab Market in Madina City Mall. It is a nice place with a compact bookshop, tea shop, an art gallery and a publishing house. Here, one can enjoy a cup of tea while choosing books. They also arrange a fortnightly club and art films are shown on a big projector screen there.

We had a big study room in our house, which was combined for all my brothers and sisters. It was full of books neatly kept on shelves, which was specially designed by my father and elder brother. Gradually, all my brothers and sisters got married. One of my brothers got settled abroad, leaving many of his books behind. Many books, were taken away by my siblings to their new houses and the study room became a little barren. Then my sisters-in-law arrived who have no interest in reading books. Time moved on and gradually our study room turned into a junkyard.

Recently, after a decade, one of my brothers decided to make it into a sitting room. He phoned all the brothers and sisters to take the books they wanted and the remaining would be disposed off. I spent the whole weekend selecting books for myself and I was so excited to find my father’s books dating back to 1940 with his name embossed on them. He had an excellent collection of Urdu literature. I brought them all and added them to my own small study room. Once these books were in my room, my father came over and I saw a sparkle of happiness in his eyes. I feel that it is a treasure I have now.

Sometimes, I regret that I spent my childhood just reading textbooks only. Now, when I see my young nieces and nephews reading other books beside textbooks, I feel happy and contented.