I have never been to Saeed Book Bank in Peshawar. Nor do I know if it is in any way related to the still very much thriving book store of the same name in Islamabad. But seeing this photograph and reading the accompanying blog by Ayesha Umar in The Express Tribune left me decidedly sad. When a bookstore dies, anywhere, something breaks in all our hearts.
Little needs to be added to the story that the photograph tells. But here are the essential details from Ayesha Umar:
… one of Peshawar’s largest and oldest bookstores, Saeed Book Bank, … has served the literary and educational needs of the people of KP for over five decades. [It] was established in 1955 by Saeed Jan Qureshi. His sons took over the family business in 1985. By the 1990s the store had expanded to a double story wonderland – the basement stored academic course books that covered all disciplines. In addition to this children’s books, religious books and vast collections of Urdu literature, both prose and poetry, were easily available. The ground floor would had shelf after shelf of English titles, fiction and non-fiction, preparatory books for standardized tests, coffee table books and magazines. The shop also sold greeting cards and office supplies.
… one cannot help but regret that many businesses have moved out of Peshawar over the past five years or so. The prime reason for this is the dismal economic situation and growing uncertainty caused by militancy… while talking to media, the owner of Saeed Book Bank said that one reason for the closure was the non-existent culture of book reading in Peshawar. The fact that not many people read books cannot be denied but one cannot help but question how much this has to do with prices. Books in general, especially imported ones, are quite expensive.
Of course, at the end of the day this is a business decision. And, yes, there are other book stores in Peshawar. But as we have written here before, the end of a book store is not just the end of a business. It reflects, and will reflect in the future, deeper and maybe more sinister implications.
It was nearly three years ago that I had written here asking if Pakistanis read and lamenting about our missing libraries. I saw this picture today and the same thoughts rushed into my head that had instigated that 2008 post. They are still there for you to read, so let me not repeat them. But let me end by saying at least this much: It is sad to be not able to read; it is sadder still to be able to read but to choose not to!