Not everything is on the internet, remarked Haroon Siddiqui, framed between a dizzying collection of antique books at the National Book Fair.
Siddiqui, who owns a Rare and Antique Books store on Mall Road in Lahore displayed rows and rows of books on every subject, some dating back to the 1700s. Chaucer and Freud, Lenin and Marx, Ibn-e-Khaldun and Faiz Ahmed breathed in the shelves of a man who may not have finished primary school but surely understands the worth of the pen and the demand for rare literature.
We may have found different mediums to enlighten and entertain ourselves with but nothing can replace the aura of a book or the experience of words dancing on a yellowed page; words that once surged from the mind and into the pen of another who pondered over existence before our own existence was inked.
“I started selling books on a footpath in Anarkali,” said Siddiqui, a warm bearded gentleman whose introduction with books was made 23 years ago when a friend offered him a small collection to sell. It was only three years back that a book-enthusiast offered to rent him space for a shop near Mall Road. Siddiqui — who had by then started to collect rare and antique books discarded by libraries, friends or donated by the families of the deceased — moved his valuable collection to the shop, which he called Siddiqui Rare and Antique Books.
Among the proprietor’s collection is the foot-long rare sample copy of “Goat” a photographic tribute to boxer Mohammed Ali. Siddiqui has also procured the 25 volume collection of Mark Twain and also has a wide range of antique books on the subject of hunting including editions of the Gun Digest from the 1900s.
Siddiqui says that he learnt a lot about his books through his customers. He would pick on their preferences by asking them about the books they were buying, and so he learnt about the philosophy of Marx, the poetry of Yeats and the history of France.
One of his favourite procurements was the biography of Napoleon Bonaparte which he sold to a customer for Rs15,000. “It was the first and last time I saw that book,” he commented about the rare edition of the biography that rested on his shelf for a brief period.
The bookseller’s customers are mostly academia, businessmen and government officials but also include some younger enthusiasts, like two young college girls who had visited his stall six times in their pilgrimage of the book fair, admiring the old books.
“Most young people do not value books,” he said, his assertion reinforced by the somewhat empty corridor lined with book vendors.
A book-lover lingering near the book display chimed in, “Books have an identity of their own which can never be lost.”
The book fair itself ended on Thursday after having attracted few enthusiasts.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.