‘50 per cent discount on all books,’ reads a sign at the entrance of Maktaba Sarhad in Khyber Bazar in Peshawar. Inside, empty book shelves stare visitors in the face while occasional enthusiasts scurry between some of the shelves.
Abdur Rashid, the owner of this shop, sits close to the entrance. Sitting in the same spot, Rashid saw his shop’s heydays but since March 23, all he sees is its liquidation. This is how Maktaba Sarhad, one of the leading bookshops of the provincial capital, is closing down after being in business for over five decades. “We traded in books for about 55 years, but it is no longer economically feasible for us to continue this business,” Rashid told The Express Tribune.
Recalling his shop’s history, Rashid says that he opened the shop in partnership with the University Book Agency — another leading bookseller of Peshawar. Later, both shops came to Khyber Bazar, while their partnership came to an end in 1989. The shops are now situated next to each other in Khyber Bazar.
Dwindling book sales
Rashid cites dwindling purchasing power as one of the main reasons behind the decision to shut down the bookshop. “We put the available stock on sale on March 23 and most of the books have been sold by now,” he said while adding that after clearing the stocks, the shop will house electronics.
Apart from that, Rashid also blames the changing trends for the lack of interest in reading. “Previously, people used to purchase books and loved reading,” he said, adding that these days even students do not bother to read and prefer guides and short notes to just scrape through examinations. “It’s sad that even those who have the purchasing power to buy books have no real love for books, while those who do love books have no money.”
Third in line
Maktaba Sarhad’s closure is the third one of a book shop in the provincial capital over the past one year. In February last year, the city’s oldest and largest bookshop — Saeed Book Bank — shifted to Islamabad due to a persistent decline in sales. Exactly a year later, Old Book Shop, which is the largest book shop for second hand books also closed down.
Peshawar’s small readers’ community is witnessing these closures with a heavy heart. To promote reading habits among local population they have opened the Peshawar Readers Club.
Dr Adil Zarif, founder member of The Citizens for Clean Environment (CCE), said that the closure of bookshops reflects a consumerist society, where not much heed is paid to the thirst for knowledge. He says that there were some shops in the city, but most of the bookshops’ collections lacked variety. “It is a trend of a consumerist society to discourage critical thinking,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nasser Yousaf, a columnist who writes on cultural issues, said he purchases books from his hometown Abbottabad, besides Peshawar and Islamabad. Yousaf is of the view that children can be encouraged to read more by introducing compulsory reading material in their syllabus.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2012.