Pindi old books bazaar
Rawalpindi—A wide range of old and secondhand books, some very rare and valuable, are sprawled every Sunday along the pavement at the stalls temporarily set up in the main Saddar Market. One can see bibliophiles of all age groups crowding these more than fifty stalls and buying books of their choice at discounted rates. “Unlike other businessmen, for the dealers of old and second hand books Sunday is busy day,” quipped Arsalan Qureshi who props up his stall ever Sunday on the Kashmir Road. This he has been doing for the last thirteen years. “Before me, my father dealt in old books and he started this business back in 1965,” he said.
A family of dealers of old books, Arsalan told that his uncle was also in the business and they earned a respectable living through the business. “I am running a book shop ‘Old Book Master,’ in F-11 while my uncle Masood Qureshi owns the oldest bookshop that deals in second hand books here Saddar with the name ‘Old Book Bank-1.’”
According to him, there were other dealers too who held their stalls every Sunday but remain at their shops in various localities of Pindi during the rest of the week. An average stall has more than 2,000 books on all subjects including literature, history, social sciences, current affairs, self-help, general knowledge, philosophy, health medical and engineering sciences as well as textbooks, he told.
Arsalan was of the view that the business of old books was flourishing with every passing day and its increasing popularity can be attributed to the skyrocketing prices of new books. “Usually middle class families visit old books stalls to buy second hand text and other books,” he said. The truth of his words could be judged as many boys and girls could be seen buying textbooks and stationery items on discounted rates at these stalls. Rahila, a student of class 9 who was accompanied by her mother said she wanted some helping books of English and Maths by a well known publishing house. “In the market they cost you over Rs500 per book but here you can get both in less than Rs500,” she said. Shakil a boy belonging to a middle class family, (his father is a clerk in RDA) said he was fond of reading English storybooks but the new books were quite expensive. According to him, at the Itwar Book Bazaar he was able to get one which is his favourite and within the reach of his pocket money.
Besides textbooks, secondhand novels by Thomas Hardy, Paulo Coelho, Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, Khushwant Singh, Quratul Ain Haider, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Ashfaq Ahmed and Bano Qudsiya were also offered on discount alluring the visitors who found it difficult to resist their temptation.
According Fareedul Haq who is the president of Old Bookstalls Dealers Association, the history of holding secondhand books stalls in the Cantonment area can be traced back in early 1950s when an Anglo-Indian Mr Heston who was a geologist by profession started holding his stall of secondhand books every Sunday.
“Even before that Pindi’s famous Siddiqui family set up a stall of old books here in Cant area,” Fareed said. “Then it became a tradition and small bookshops owners as well as freelance dealers in old books have been holding their stalls since that time,” he told.
Fareed is in the business for the last fifteen years and has fond memories of noted personalities that regularly visited the old books stalls every Sunday. Gen (R) Shafiqur Rehman was a familiar face at these stalls of old books, Farid mused, adding Shafiqur Rehman’s role in popularizing old bookstalls will always be remembered. “Hardly, he missed any Sunday and could be seen looking for rare books in the piles of old books,” Farid recalled.
After Shafiqur Rehman those who regularly visited old books stalls included Mansha Yad, Iftikhar Arif, Rashid Amjad, Mazharul Islam, Nisar Nasik and many others. “Even today, they are among our regular visitors,” he said.
“By good fortune, sometime we come by a rare book or a manuscript. That makes up for all previous losses in the business,” he said. He told that once he came by a handwritten text by Shah Isameel Shaheed of Bala Kot and that rare manuscript earned him quite a handsome amount. Farid said the dealers of old books had to pay Rs200 every Sunday for each stall. “The Cantt administration is usually cooperative with us. It is only upon the change of Station Commander we face some difficulty as the new commander brings along a new set of rules and regulation but after sometime things come to normalcy,” he said. It was only in 2006 when the stalls were closed down for six months due to the administration’s hot headed boss. There were good officers too, Fareed said remembering the compassionate Brig (R) Saleem who waived off the weekly Rs200 saying they were doing a public service.