Requiem for a Book Store

Posted on March 1, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, Culture & Heritage, Education, Society
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Adil Najam

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!

19 Comments on “Requiem for a Book Store”

  1. USMAN says:
    March 2nd, 2011 1:03 am

    Actually the Saeed Book Bank in Islamabad is thriving very much Is it the same.

  2. Kafir Per Pakistani Law says:
    March 2nd, 2011 1:36 am

    If Pakistanis read and write books then they will be able to propagate Islam and defend Islam in West in a peaceful, tolerant, intellectual, inspiring, loving way. BUT WAIT A MINUTE, by taking this approach they will be abandoning their understanding of “Militant Jihad to spread Islam”. And by doing this, Pakistanis will become followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian who said over hundred years ago: The best way to propagate Islam in West is by presenting a quality literature on Islam to them.

    Personal Disclosure:
    I hold belief that:
    1-There is no God but Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (SAWS) WAS HIS LAST AND GREATEST PROPHET.
    2-No new or old prophet can come after Rasul Allah SAWS.
    3-I consider all reciters of Kalima-Shahada as Muslims.
    4-I do NOT belong to Qadiani organization headed by their Khalifa residing in England, that holds belief that thousands of prophets can come after Rasul Allah SAWS (nauzubilah), but they will only come in their Qadiani organization.

  3. Zecchetti says:
    March 2nd, 2011 2:00 am

    @Kafir per Pakistani Law,

    Please kindly refrain from propagating your minority beliefs on this Pakistani website. Thank you.

  4. Zecchetti says:
    March 2nd, 2011 2:01 am

    It is sad to be not able to read; it is sadder still to be able to read but to choose not to! – An excellent statement.

  5. Kafir Per Pakistani Law says:
    March 2nd, 2011 3:03 am


    Dear i’m NOT propagating anyones belief on this forum. All i’m doing is highlighting HYPOCRISY of Pakistanis mind.

    I’m sorry, if my pointing out a truth is making you uncomfortable.
    BTW, did you read my personal disclosure??? I’m posting it again for you. So are you saying that a person who holds my belief is genunily a “Kafir”???

    Personal Disclosure:
    I hold belief that:
    1-There is no God but Allah (SWT) and Muhammad (SAWS) WAS HIS LAST AND GREATEST PROPHET.
    2-No new or old prophet can come after Rasul Allah SAWS.
    3-I consider all reciters of Kalima-Shahada as Muslims.
    4-I do NOT belong to Qadiani organization headed by their Khalifa residing in England, that holds belief that thousands of prophets can come after Rasul Allah SAWS (nauzubilah), but they will only come in their Qadiani organization.

  6. ShahidnUSA says:
    March 2nd, 2011 6:54 am

    It is the time when all the tycoons of Pakistan bring all their foreign assets, properties and accounts and invest in the country. They should realise that day is not far when their accounts will also be frozen in foreign countries like Husni Mubarak and Qazafi etc.

    Dictators and Kings are learning that no one is invincible and irreplaceable and the time has come now when they will have to pull their the heads out of the deep power addiction hole.

  7. Tariq Ahsan says:
    March 2nd, 2011 9:25 am

    In the early 60s I used to accompany my parents to a bookstore in Rawalpindi called The London Book Company. Whenever we visited Rawalpindi from Abbottabad, they would get books from there, some of which I read when I became old enough to understand them. William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich stands out in my memory, as it informed the world view to which I still adhere in my old age. During the late 1960s they (The London Book Co.) also opened an outlet in the Kohsar Market in Islamabad, where I would drop in for a short while almost everyday. When I visited Islamabad and Rawalpindi in 1997, they were both gone. The place where Salman Taseer was gunned down for speaking out in support of an oppressed woman, was once a place where you once could go to seek sources of enlightenment.

    As the world literally turns, one thinks about events in a context shaped by our experiences, and also by the books we have read. As I observe the mass upheavals in Egypt, Oman, and Libya, Fred Halliday’s evocative title for his book, Arabia Without Sultans,comes to mind. I had picked-up this excellent introductory work about political struggles in the Arab world at the Kohsar Market during the mid 1970s. The aspiration has millions of adherents today, even though the author had given it up by the 1990s.

    Best wishes,


  8. zia says:
    March 2nd, 2011 9:30 am

    - alm-o-fikr sey begana gurza ja ay dost
    aql tu barhti hai magar dil ka ziyan hota hai

    - almoo bas karain o yar
    ak alif teenu darkar

    hamain jehalat pasand hai, kiya samjhay?

    In 60+ years nobody has ever demanded national, totally free primary and secondary education for all. People do not want it, leaders do not want to provide it and you are lamenting on closure of one bookshop! Karachi was emptied out of almost all of its bookshops 10 years back. Lamenting is futile. To change, the fundamentals have to change first. No use crying on dearth of books, libraries, bookshops and schools. Pakistan has no place for these useless things.

  9. -Farid says:
    March 2nd, 2011 1:20 pm

    First, their store is Islamabad is thriving indeed as has been mentioned before in the comments.

    Second, I find the remarks about non readership culture a bit in contrast to the fact that the store has been in Peshawar since 1955 and apparently done well enough with the owner to have opened another store in Islamabad. Looks to me like they must have had a lot of customers.

    I do agree that it is sad to see a bookstore close. But as the article mentions there are other good book stores in Peshawar. So may be this is just a business decision and we shouldn’t over analyze it. Not everything that happens in Pakistan is the reflection of some deep seated hidden phenomena.

  10. sagheer says:
    March 2nd, 2011 2:12 pm
  11. Somaiyah Mioz says:
    March 2nd, 2011 8:27 pm

    Very sad indeed.I hope this place doesn’t go to another food or clothing store as these are the two businesses currently thriving in Peshawar.

  12. Maskeenel says:
    March 2nd, 2011 9:06 pm

    When book stores start to disappear and reading in spare time is extinct, then know that jahalat is in and it has taken over. When that happens, you find illiterate people ruling the literate because they illiterate think that know better. Pakkistan is doing the same and going in the same direction by letting them do that.

  13. javed hamid says:
    March 2nd, 2011 11:33 pm

    once a month i manage to pay a visit to isb branch of saeed book bank. it’s really awesome to be there. though it’s sad to learn that peshawar office is no more open, but seeing isb store full of local and foreigners makes us feel better that still we’ve a hope of book reading activity. but i guess this is not the case in other cities of pak due to ever lessening literacy rate.
    @Kafir per Pakistani Law
    very clever of you indeed. btw what’s ur belief about this Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani?

  14. Anwar says:
    March 2nd, 2011 11:46 pm

    My sister broke the news to me last month about Saeed Book bank’s move to Islamabad… If I recall correctly, Saeed used to work at the London Book Company on Arbab Road… He was very down to earth and humble guy. I always enjoyed visiting the bookstore and I wish him luck…

  15. Saeed Ahmed says:
    March 4th, 2011 1:24 am

    Having studied in Peshawar for 4 years, I was used to going to Saeed Book Bank, I had never seen such a big book store even in Karachi, so it is really sad they had to close out from Peshawar and move to Islamabad, nevertheless I wish them good luck.

  16. ali b says:
    March 4th, 2011 5:41 am

    Saeed book bank in Peshawar is closing its shutters because of lack of customers and the law and order situation. The book business in Pakistan does not cater to many people because of high illiteracy as such book stores pull their shutters down.Their Islamabad store which is quiet huge is doing pretty well.

  17. Muhammad says:
    March 6th, 2011 6:44 am

    Im saddened to hear that Saeed Book Bank in Peshwar is closing down.
    I bought several books on opthalmology from the Islamabad branch plus a number of the Harry Potter books for my sisters over the last few years.

    They’ve got an impressive stock list of books in the Islamabad branch, It would surely be a noticeable loss if that were to close as well.

  18. sagheershah says:
    March 12th, 2011 4:04 pm
  19. Ali says:
    March 13th, 2011 10:36 pm

    It is indeed sad the books there were expensive but it is not the primary reason i suppose, There is another book shop on University Road Peshawar an Old Book shop where there were books at reasonable prices but it has not been partially converted into a CD store mainly due to non reading culture. When ever i go there there are few and mostly no people in the books area of that shop.

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