Book Shops: Gone With the Wind

Posted on December 24, 2006
Filed Under >Darwaish, Books, Economy & Development
Total Views: 43702


Guest Post by Darwaish

Mall road is one of my favorite areas of Lahore and I have some wonderful childhood memories associated with it. There is no other road like it which we all love here in Lahore, probably because it’s so close to the heart of the old city.

Yesterday while driving around the mall road, I decided to look for a book shop and buy 3 books which were long pending in one of my wish-list. So driving slowly, I started to recall the old books shops where I used to buy books with my father when I was a little kid. To my great surprise and shock, I could only find Maqbool Academy which is located in famous Diyal Singh Mansion and Feroz Sons. All the other old book shops were either closed or they had changed their line of business.

First, I couldn’t believe that all those lovely book shops I once loved are really gone one by one but then I realized it had to happen, keeping in mind the ever dwindling lack of interest in reading book in our society. General public has lost interest in book reading and for sellers it is no longer a profitable business.

There used to be atleast 10 book shops at Mall Road only just 8 or 10 years ago but only TWO exist now.

For example, there used to be one small book shop near Regal Cinema gate inside the small lane (I forgot its name), where there are two flower vendors now. Also there was the Imperial Book Depot and across from Regal used to be the Classic Book House. Then across from Cathedral and High court was Russian Book House.

But my favorite was a small book shop at Regal, just on the left of Shireen Mehal. I think its name was Mirza Book Agency and not only they used to have the best ever collection of children’s edition of famous novels but also The Hardy Boys and every other comic collection. I still remember my father got me a pocket sized version of Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities from there long long time ago. This shop not only sold old books at low, affordable prices but they had a special taste in Urdu literature. The owner of that shop introduced me to some of the finest writers of Urdu literature and I can’t thank him enough for doing that (if only I can find him now).

Yes, Feroz Sons were there too but they were never in my good book atleast. First I never had so much money to spend when I was a kid and Feroz Sons were very expansive, still are I think. Second, I don’t know why but I loved old books. I guess old books smell different :). So I always ended up at my favorite shop at Regal or Maqbool Academy and hey Bible Society had a lot to offer. But for me the best of them was Maqbool Academy because I could make use of 50% discount scheme by National Book Foundation which was huge relief for people like me. I don’t know if this scheme still exists.

I also recall people who would sell old books from defunct British collections, on a rug in the mud. My cousin once forced me to buy George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying for Rs. 10 which he then took with him to England. All gone. But I have seen a few such people in Anarkali and Bible Society even now.

Its a pity that, for whatever reasons, people have stopped reading books over the years. I don’t know if I am quoting right or not but I think it was in To Kill a Mockingbird that someone said in some connection with reading, “One doesn’t learn how to breatheâ€Â?.

Darwaish blogs on his own blog la vie en rose and also contributes to Metroblog Lahore, where a version of this post first appeared.

41 Comments on “Book Shops: Gone With the Wind”

  1. Asma says:
    December 24th, 2006 4:28 pm

    Oh yeah I’m so much in love with the “Old Books” phenomena too … somehow lahore or islamabad I’d always be looking for an old book shop … seems like you are locked into a treasure chest with a hidden treasure to hunt for :)

    Today’s youth is always in find for E-Books … or other E-stuff … but the fun of a hard copy is, indeed, totally “hat kay” …!

  2. Daktar says:
    December 24th, 2006 5:42 pm

    Nice post, brought back memories.
    Well, some of the book shops have moved to newer areas. There are some new shops that are very good. I know there are a few very well stocked one in Islamabad certainly. Also, teh type of books have changed, much more computer stuff now and also knock-offs of self-help type books. Not that much literature either in Urdu or English.

  3. Ghalib says:
    December 24th, 2006 5:57 pm

    kya yaad kara dia!!
    i remember the 1984-1992 era! offcourse the pre-internet era!schools i guess my especially used to encourage the students to read an read an read!it helped to increase my vocabulary!
    The OLD BOOK BANK 1 and 2 in Rawalpindi cantt saddar!!!! i have fond memories of finding “hardy boys”series ,the cricketer magazine,TIME mags story books readers digest an when ever i used to go there it used be really flocked with ppl!but in late 90′s an 00′s the trend fell as internet came in i guess ppl left i mean the young generation the old timers still cherish a old book!like i found a 1981 edition of “if i am assasinated” by Z A Bhutto on the Bank Road Saddar for just 15 Rs LOL! and new books like “Brief History of time” by S.Hawking in just 25 Rs and they werent pirated they were international editions!
    i Guess sports and reading got diminished from our society witht he coming of internet!internet gave society alot but has taken much more from the young kids i guess parents elders shud check on the young generation wat they do on internet and shud make them indulge into activities that help in their future building!this is my assumption i can be wrong!
    Darwaish real nice post!! keep it up!

  4. Fawad says:
    December 25th, 2006 12:18 am

    Darwaish Sahib,
    The topic you address here brings back so many memories. I grew up in Lahore as a book lover with an always meager budget and frequented may of the bookstores you mention. Ferozsons was and remains a good bookstore but I always found it cold and forbidding. It seemed to be a bookstore for the rich. However, there were bookstores in other parts of town where I used to get my fix as well: Iqbal Book Corner & Anees Book Depot (in Main Market, Gulberg) and Vanguard (on Davis Road). Now when I visit Lahore I have discovered that three of the better current bookstores are Kim’s (at the entrance of the Lahore Museum across from Kim’s Gun), Sang-e-Meel Publications (on Lower Mall near Government College Lahore) and Oxford University Press store (on the intersection of Jail road & Main Boulevard).

    However, sadly Lahore is no longer the intellectual center it once was. It is not just that there are fewer people who care about reading books, it is also that the general deterioration of intellectual life in the last few decades is now evident in the number of quality books written, transalted, read or debated. The creeping religious intolerance and fundamentalism has probably played the largest role but deterioration of esteemed educational institutions is also a major cause. This article “Bookless in Lahore” by Yoginder Sikand made me despondent but reflects the general reality of intellectual life in modern day Pakistan (not just Lahore).

    To be fair there are some new signs of life in Lahore’s intellectual firmament but a lot more time and effort is required to get Lahore back to even a shade of its pre-partition zenith.

  5. ayesha says:
    December 25th, 2006 4:02 am

    While I don’t have any childhood memories of going book-shopping in Lahore (largely because I wasn’t based in lahore then), but my experience last year hunting for good books on the Mall was similar. My dad and I decided that lets go to the mall and do some nice book shopping. So went and what a disappointment that was! Forget the couple of small bookshops that were around, the state of Forezsons was pathetic! Out of date, limited and expensive book supply. And the place was dark and dusty! It was HUGE disappointment.

    I shifted to Islamabad a couple of month ago and I discovered much to my delight that things are comparatively better. My last visit to Saeed Book Bank was heartening and I waiting for my next paycheck, then it’s treat time! :D

  6. ayesha says:
    December 25th, 2006 4:23 am

    While I don’t have any childhood memories of going book-shopping in Lahore (largely because I wasn’t based in lahore then), but my experience last year hunting for good books on the Mall was similar. My dad and I decided that lets go to the mall and do some nice book shopping. So went and what a disappointment that was! Forget the couple of small bookshops that were around, the state of Ferozsons was pathetic! Out of date, limited and expensive book supply. And the place was dark and dusty! It was HUGE disappointment.

    I shifted to Islamabad a couple of month ago and I discovered much to my delight that things are comparatively better. My last visit to Saeed Book Bank was a treat and I’m waiting for my next paycheck…

  7. G.A. says:
    December 25th, 2006 7:54 am

    Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, “Lighthouses” as the poet said “erected in the sea of time.” They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind, Books are humanity in print. -Arthur Schopenhauer , philosopher (1788-1860)

    It is sad to see that people all over the world are losing interest in reading books.

  8. zeeshan says:
    December 25th, 2006 2:57 pm

    in a country where 70% population lives below poverty line, what else can you expect? khaali pait kia koi kitab parhe ga?

    Most of the book stores mentioned in the comments do not sell the kind of books we are talking about. Like Anees Book and Iqbal Book Depot, they mainly sell text books etc.

  9. Atif says:
    December 26th, 2006 10:51 am

    Darwaish Ali is my very old & dearest friend, who mentioned his post & when he told me the topic, I had to read it. I grew up in Purani(old) anarkali. When somebody talks about the old mall road, anarkali & so much more in that small area, my heart fills with both joy & sadness. I have travelled a lot but yet the peaceful joy & sheer happiness that I felt walking down those old galian & half demolished houses & smiling faces is never to be discovered again. Back to the topic, I remember one of my sunday activity used to be walking down the mall road, and browsing through books, buying both english & urdu, used & new , old & antique books, just browsing through them was very much like finding a hidden treasure, The range of topics, from palmistry to medical books, everything was available there.
    I think one thing nobody mentioned were the book sellers of those old shabby books, Those poeple knew everything, the knew the names of the books, and if they did not have what you wanted, they would know who had it or how/when they could get it. Unfortunately I dont remember the names of any shops, there was a small alley just after mall road on the right that had all the amazing books. Thanks for bringing back those memories.

  10. Akif Nizam says:
    December 26th, 2006 3:07 pm

    I totally relate to what you guys went through in Lahore. My experience, however, was in Karach in the late 80s. Every day returning home from college, I would stop by at some old bookstore in Urdu Bazaar or Empress market, trying to dig up something of interest…and of course, then haggling the price down to a bargain. A lot of those bookstore are gone now, the ones that remain seem deserted. Also, the storeowners of yesteryears used to know about the authors and their anthologies; now it’s just a bunch of Afghans selling books like tandoori rotis.

  11. December 26th, 2006 5:17 pm

    The issues of the 70 percent who cannot read are serious indeed, and literacy is clearly a massive challenge. But, what this post by Darwaish speaks to is a different issue of the lack of reading habits amongst the 30 (maybe less) percent who CAN read. I am quite convinced that most of us do NOT read… even the newspaper, hum daikhtay hain, parhtay nahiN.

    This, of course, does not stop people from commenting thoroughly on things they have never read a word about (am myself guilty of that). But somehow reading is not considered a pre-requisite for even passing judgment on books and authors that we have never even bothered to read.

    Having said that, I think the picture is not all bleak. There has been a minor revolution in English publishing in Pakistan. First with Vanguard and now with OUP. Unfortunately, too many of these are ‘memoirs’ trying to rewrite histories, but that is not a bad start either. Earlier, in Urdu publishing houses like Sang-e-Meel and later Maawra amongst others have also made valiant contributions. Occasionally (like currently from Dawn publishers, earlier from Jang group, or the series on sufiana kalam from Ferozesons) some truly spectacular books (in terms of substance as well as production) come along.

    But the pursuit of reading as a pleasurable exercise and an intellectual pastime seems to be waning. What Darwaish is saying (with the books he mentions) is reading for the sake on reading (not to learn a computer language or find the 7 habits of success). Books are rarely a topic of discussion … when was the last time someone asked ‘What have you been reading lately?’ In my experience, when I do bring up books as a topic of conversation it is met with amusement – as if they are wondering why I waste time reading actual books when I can get ‘information’ from Wikipedia (which, by the way, is a lousy and dangerous way of doing so for anything serious, as the Cowasjee and Muslim Nobel winners episode demonstrated). This attitude I do worry about. An attitude that not only things that the knowledge in books is not useful, but seems to act as if it is dangerous or actually wrong!

    Apologies for these meandering thoughts, but let me end on a positive note. There are actually lots of Old Book Shops still thriving. In Islamabad, the ‘original’ ‘Old Book Shop’ (in the circular building in Melody Market) now has multiple branches and there are many others that have followed. In Lahore, I recently browsed for hours at this wonderful book shack in Old Anarkali. And my copy of Ayub Khan’s ‘Freinds, Not Masters’ I picked up a couple of years ago in an old book shop in Quetta.

    Personally, I think Pakistan is ripe for an Amazon type service for selling and buying old books… any entrepreneurs listening?

  12. Erum Siddique says:
    December 27th, 2006 10:25 am

    This post brought back so many memories. I am just so glad to see that this lack of reading issue is remembered by others too. I agree with isloo people here that things are far better there but lahore has definitely lost its intelectual past. I heard even Pak Tea house has been closed down too?

    Nice reverie.

  13. AR says:
    December 28th, 2006 11:44 am

    national book foundation sceme is still there and there are libraries for book lovers who even have latest books available. unfortunately people don’t make use of them. if one wants to read books, they don’t always have to buy them.

  14. Nadia says:
    December 31st, 2006 8:37 am

    I have just discovered this website yesterday and I am instantly in love with the contents. You guys are doing a great job.

    Like many other readers this particular post also brought back my childhood memories. Its always nice to see people writing about their memories.

    PS: I think there should be a seperate ‘Memories’ category here which is missing at the moment.

  15. Adnan Iqbal says:
    January 2nd, 2007 3:27 pm

    Reading old books is a fascinating experience. Its like going back in time 50 or 100 years and becoming part of a conversation. I still go out to old Anarkali in search of someone who still has something old and valuable to sell.

    On reading news papers, I agree hum waqai daikhtay hain, parhtay nahiN. Loved the post btw :).

  16. Imran Malik says:
    January 10th, 2007 2:04 pm

    I discovered one great book shop just two blocks away from galaxy cinema today. 30-40 rupees per novel. There is another shop in gulberg which we usually call ‘basement shop’, they have a good collection of english and urdu literature too.

    Prices are not the main factor people have stopped reading. We happily spend 1000 on lunch or dinner so why can’t we buy a 200 or 300 rupees book? Those who really want to read books can always find a way. Feroz Sons sux.

  17. book worm says:
    January 15th, 2007 2:41 pm

    the last picture in your post, is that a shop in Anarkali? What about the Tarzan and Manku, Umru Ayaar and other stories? nobody reads them anymore? I used to buy them for 50 paisas or 1Rs and they were wonderful. Like everyone else said, thank you for bringing back memories

  18. Imran Ahmad says:
    January 21st, 2007 4:53 pm

    I read your puppet post few minutes ago and now found this one. Another wonderful post! Thank you. I love the way you describe your childhood memories. Like others, I also used to save my pocket money to buy books every month and mainly from shops like the last picture in your post.

    Sadly books are way too expansive these days. Government should also provide some incentives package to publishers.

  19. syed zahid says:
    February 14th, 2007 12:29 pm

    there is no doubt that the books stores on Mall (Shah Rahe Quaid e Azam) have closed down.oneof the main reason is that approach to this road has become very difficult as Lahore has grown lot bigger in last 20-30 years.many new book stores have opened in gulberg,defence and many other new localities.the days are gone when every one used to go to Mall.ten years ago it used to take me twenty minutes from cantt to mayo it would take me more than an hour.easy access to internet have also reduced the requirements and of course last of all the increase in cost of living have shifted the interests away from the books

  20. Amira says:
    February 18th, 2007 4:43 pm

    syed zahid: I think this post is mainly about used and old books. I haven’t seen any book shop in Defence selling used/old books (where are they?). In gulberg there is a shop in the basement of a plaza but its nothing like the books shops which used to be at mall road.

    Its more to do with lack of reading habits than accessibility issues in my view.

  21. veteran says:
    July 6th, 2007 4:12 pm

    HARDY BOYS !!!!!

  22. July 15th, 2007 4:03 pm

    I found this from your handmade carpet post and I just loved the way you have described old book shops at mall road. As a book lover myself, I can totally relate to what you have gone through in this post.

    Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories.

  23. Hussain,Nazir says:
    August 4th, 2007 4:06 pm

    I am greatly impreseed by this page. It has reminded me good
    old days when I used to buy old books from impreial and hero book dept,old Anarkali naer old campus of the Punjab University.. I has given me a taste of the place and flavour of the Lahori culture while currently living in Canada. Congratulations.
    Whitby,Onatrio Canada

  24. Muzaffar says:
    August 31st, 2007 3:48 pm

    Needless to say that your article brought back so many wonderful memories. National Book Foundation\’s reader club scheme still exists and they charge you 100 rupees.

    Daily Times had this interesting story of an entrepreneur in Karachi selling old books. You might want to read this one here

  25. Ayman Mustafa says:
    September 1st, 2007 2:23 am

    National Book Foundation\’s readers club is a useful scheme actually. You can get a membership for Rs 100 and then use it at any shop tog et 50% discount. One of my cousins in Lahore uses it very effectively. Impressive when your bill is 6000 and you get a discount of 3000 :)

  26. Muhammad Sajid says:
    December 12th, 2007 10:31 am

    TEL: 42-5733283, CELL: 0333-431993

  27. laila says:
    December 16th, 2007 1:13 pm

    i am very fond of reding romantic novels. please tell me the addresses of the old book shops where i can find lots of books. there are some old book shops in the main market but there are not many books there.

  28. Saima Ameen says:
    February 3rd, 2008 11:09 am

    Your article brought back so many memories. I know all the roads and bookshops you mentioned. We used to live nearby almost 20 years ago.

    Thank you for taking me back in time.

  29. February 6th, 2008 6:41 am

    Love for old books is default option for students like me. I try my best to buy books from old book shops, but in rawalpindi saddar, there is a shop “Old Book Bank” whose prices are higher than new ones. But still old book optoins is good for me.

  30. Maqsood Janjua says:
    February 12th, 2008 3:10 pm

    Buhat khub bai. Kia yaaden taaza kar de.

    Thanks for writing this one.


  31. MK says:
    July 19th, 2008 1:37 pm

    I agree with you that the habit of book reading has almost vanished from our society and angry violent behaviors and attitudes have taken over its place. It is something to do with our discussions which have become less authentic and more rhetoric and incorrect and lack referencing.
    Buying old books can be even cheaper if we sell them back after reading them and thus save on the initial investment. Therefore i do not find the argument very interesting which most of the people put forward as a reason for not reading books that they can not afford books.
    Even if we buy a new book we can sell it to a used book store for atleast 1/4th the price.
    We need a massive media campaign to encourage our society to start reading books or the quality of our discussions will keep on deteriorating till the point that it reaches violence in the form of civil war

  32. Fatima Khan says:
    October 15th, 2008 3:18 pm

    The Russian Book House you mentioned in this article was my favorite bookstore on Mall Road and I remember it well. Thank you for beautiful memories and taking me back to Lahore.

  33. Akbar says:
    June 15th, 2009 7:30 pm

    I grew up in Lahore and am 19 now. I remember when i got Tlism Hosh Ruba from my cousins. I was 10.It had some volumes missing but i could not find them because my father was mostly too busy to take me to urdu bazar or mall road, it would have been nice to read the whole story. I was really addicted to it too. If only there were more shops selling these kind of books. Oh well we have internet now

  34. October 18th, 2009 1:30 am

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    All Praises for ALLAH, The Lord of all universes, and blessings and peace be upon His Holy & Last Prophet MUHAMMAD (Sall-Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), upon His Family, His Companions, His Wives and those who follow them until the Day of Judgment. No doubt, the Life of Holy Prophet MUHAMMAD (Sall-Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is the Symbol of Peace and Prosperity for humanity. The Series of SEERAT Books are available online at . Please do visit the website and spread this link all over the world and pray for us. Jazak’Allah
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  35. Jamshed says:
    March 31st, 2010 11:52 pm

    Islamabad still has some pretty good bookshops.Saeed Book Bank,London Book Co and Mr. Books all have good collections.In addition,quite a few decent old bookshops in both Super and Jinnah Super markets.

  36. Jamshed says:
    April 1st, 2010 7:53 am

    As for Feroze Sons,they were doing a great job in the 1970s.They had published translations of so many classics including Gulliver’s Travels,Robinson Cruso,Oliver Twist etc etc.They also had many very good Pakistani writers writing for children.They also published Dastan e Amir Hamza and Tilism e Hoshruba in language that could be understood by kids.
    Now it seems they have confined themselves mostly to the publication of text books.Sad.

  37. September 19th, 2010 8:25 am

    Hi There,

    This website is a good effort for book exchange provided people use it, here you donoate books, sell your old books….

  38. payaam says:
    November 9th, 2010 4:12 pm

    i love mr.books because it’s got a variety of books and magazines,oh also since it’s in islamabad club too,it’s super fun to shop after brunch!

    November 10th, 2010 1:40 am



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    March 4th, 2011 6:36 pm

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  41. November 12th, 2011 12:10 pm

    I have a large collection of books on heritage, Archaeology Art and Architecture, and all comes from such book shops, I have many rare books. I am going to establish a library of old books,

    If anyone wishes to donate books please contact me,

    M Adeel Qureshi
    PhD Research Scholar (Heritage Architecture) &
    Visiting lecturer
    Karachi University &
    Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture,

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