Saeed Book Bank: Another casualty in KP
Peshawar's oldest book store shuts down in the face of militancy, bad economics and a changing market
It's not that I never anticipated the closure of one of Peshawar’s largest and oldest bookstores, Saeed Book Bank, yet that news still broke my heart. I can’t exactly recall my first visit to the store but I do know it was the best book store in the province.
Saeed Book Bank has been regarded as a site worth mentioning to tourists in Peshawar. It has served the literary and educational needs of the people of KP for over five decades.
Saeed Book Bank 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.
The closure of Saeed Book Bank does not bode well for various reasons.
Firstly, 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.
Secondly, 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. Books by foreign publishers from the US and UK are priced well above Rs1,000. Despite one’s desire to own and read, a book could be out of one's reach due to it's price.
Unfortunately, libraries cannot substitute bookstores. There are not many available but they do help promote the reading trend. In Peshawar, the British Council, used to be a nice and cozy corner for readers but it too closed its doors for the people some time back due to the deteriorating security situation.
There are a couple of other bookstores in Peshawar with fairly good collections but finding a books is still not easy - especially if you are looking for a rare title. I think it is time for the leading booksellers in Pakistan to come up with user friendly online ordering systems so that the readers can stop relying on visiting bookstores.