Book Shops: Gone With the Wind

Posted on December 24, 2006
Filed Under >Darwaish, Books, Economy & Development
42 Comments
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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.

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42 responses to “Book Shops: Gone With the Wind”

  1. Akif Nizam says:

    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.

  2. Atif says:

    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.

  3. zeeshan says:

    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.

  4. G.A. says:

    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.

  5. ayesha says:

    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…

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