Requiem for a Book Store

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

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19 responses to “Requiem for a Book Store”

  1. Saeed Ahmed says:

    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.

  2. Anwar says:

    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…

  3. javed hamid says:

    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.
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    @Kafir per Pakistani Law
    very clever of you indeed. btw what’s ur belief about this Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani?

  4. Maskeenel says:

    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.

  5. Somaiyah Mioz says:

    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.

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