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 responses to “Requiem for a Book Store”

  1. -Farid says:

    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.

  2. zia says:

    – 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.

  3. Tariq Ahsan says:

    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,


  4. ShahidnUSA says:

    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.

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