Who says books don't sell in Pakistan?
March 11, 2008: A seemingly unimportant event in 1981 made me realise that books do sell in
Pakistan. A small advertisement appeared in a leading Urdu newspaper informing
the readers that Mukhtar Masood's new book, "Safar Naseeb", had come out. I went
to Urdu Bazaar the following day and, entering Punjab Book Agency, which sold
literary titles, asked for the book.
Nazeer Sahib, the shopkeeper with
whom I had struck an acquaintance over the years, smiled and informed me that
the new arrival had already sold out. When I pointed out that the advertisement
about the book had appeared only the previous day, he laughed heartily and,
looking at his fellow shopkeeper who stood nearby and was equally amused, said:
"Mukhtar Masood ki nai kitab itni tezi se biki hai, kamal ho gaya (It is great
that Mukhtar Masood's new book has sold so fast)."
"Books do sell here,"
I thought and left for the other bookshop. Mukhtar Masood's first book,
"Awaz-e-Dost", had won accolades from readers and critics alike for its elegant
prose, literary style and musings on history. It had established its author as a
successful man of letters. So, his second book's brisk sale was not surprising,
yet it was a literary travel account and its astonishingly quick sale stood at
odd variance with the oft-repeated lament that literary books only gather dust
Afterwards, I got hold of some surveys on the reading
habits of Pakistanis. The surveys were published by some government
institutions. They told me that books did sell in Pakistan, though not as much
as they should, or at least not in proportion to the country's huge population.
But keeping in view Pakistan's low literacy rate, the sale of books was not too
bad. Religion and fiction sold well, followed by humour, history and poetry.
"These government statistics are not meant to be believed," I told
But then there were books like those of Shafeeq-ur Rehman that
sold steadily and were printed over and over again. Looking at the list of
best-selling titles, you would agree with me that even today books sell well and
people read a lot. "Khuda Ki Basti", Shaukat Siddiqui's novel that earned him
name all over the world and was translated into more than 25 languages, is a
case in point. Its Urdu version has run into 50 editions, though most of them
were unauthorized and even the original publisher printed several editions
without the author knowing it. The author later sued the publisher – and that's
one reason why publishers don't speak about huge book sales. Then there is
"Shahab Nama", the ever-green memoirs of President Ayub Khan's secretary and
writer Qudrat-ul-lah Shahab. The 1994 edition that I possess is its 13th and a
lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
To meet their
ever-rising demand, Ibn-e-Insha's books were recently reprinted umpteenth time.
Though most of the Pakistani editions of Qurat-ul-Ain Hyder's books have been
unauthorized, they have been a source of great joy – and money – for publishers.
Apart from these modern writers, masters like Ghalib have never been out of
print. Urdu's classical works too attract a lot of readers and are printed over
and over again.
When Harry Potter took the reading world by storm, the
local market was also flooded with its sequels, although only a few hundred
copies were imported and the widening gap between supply and demand was filled
by ever-so-creative and ingenuous local publishers with pirated
People associated with bookselling for long would tell you
several rags-to-riches stories of book importers. One of the largest importers
of books used to have a kiosk-like bookstall in a narrow lane in Karachi's
Saddar area where once stood a cinema called Capitol. There are numerous
publishers of Urdu books who started from scratch and are doing a roaring
business these days.
So, what about all the fuss created by publishers
and booksellers? "Books don't sell, people don't read anymore, the electronic
media and the Internet have made books irrelevant, all people want are fast food
and DVDs." This is the stock reply you receive when you discuss the issue with
publishers and booksellers. "So why don't you wind up and do something else
instead, selling burgers for instance," ask them and they will be more evasive,
conveniently forgetting that it is their second or in some cases third
generation that is involved in publishing or bookselling or both.
recent international book fair in Karachi saw an overwhelming public response.
On the very first day of the fair, I entered the hall at about 11 in the morning
and headed straight to the stall that sold Indian books, looking especially for
Urdu books published in India and patting myself on the back for being an early
bird. I was dismayed and overjoyed in equal measure when I realised that
bibliophiles like Prof Rafeeq Ahmed Naqsh had already helped themselves to the
fare available at the bookstall. By 1pm, about half the books on that stall were
gone and book lovers like Prof Sahar Ansari, Asif Farrukhi, Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal,
Aqeel Abbas Jafri, and Mubin Mirza were seen triumphantly carrying away their
Where are people who say books don't sell in Pakistan? But,
yes, if by books they mean some wretched poetry collections by equally wretched
poets who know nothing either about poetry or about language, then they are
right: books don't sell in Pakistan. But, then, we should not worry about such
By Rauf Parekh (Dawn)
"just loved it"
Name: dr farani
City, Country: malegaon INDIA