Walking through the now tiled pavements and labelled lanes of Sunday bazaar in Karachi, one is overcome with mixed emotions: Was the previously unmarked and sandy market better suited to our needs or are we ready to embrace this change. The answer varies from person to person. The only ones certain about progressing with the refurbished market are the shopkeepers themselves.
Sunday bazaar is known for many things: The availability of products ranging from apparel, shoes, household items, to vegetables and fruits. The market also attracts a large audience because of the relatively cheaper prices. It can be said that the bazaar has created strong brand loyalty over the years. This is especially true for book-lovers who take to the market religiously. Yes, there are people who still prefer to run their fingers through the pages of hard cover books. E-books and iPhones haven’t dominated this market just yet. If they had, then the shopkeepers at Saleem Book Stall and Jumbo Book Stall would be out of business, which I assure you is not the case.
Sadly, I haven’t had the time to indulge in a good book lately. My last read was Anna Karenin, which incidentally was also my last attempt to read it. It proved more successful than my previous attempts and had I more time at my disposal, I would resume reading it. Alas, we are all slaves to the nine to five life and if not in the corporate jungle then, elsewhere. The 30-minutes or so I spent at the book stalls at Sunday bazaar reminded me of how much I was missing out on. The different genres one could learn about, the vast tales left untold, the many fantasies still unlived — all available at an affordable cost. Spare your daily (or nightly) 20- minutes for a meagre Rs120 and transcend to another world, breaking free from the monotony of everyday life.
I gained a lot of insight about the way the bookstalls operate, by speaking to Mohammad Hussain, who runs the Jumbo Book Stall. His brother, Saleem Hussain runs the popular Saleem Book Stall. The brothers manage their businesses in a similar fashion: They purchase in bulk from Khori Garden (a wholesale market), where they initially owned a bookshop. They then shifted to Sunday bazaar and have been there since then.
One of the customers at Jumbo Book Stall, Dr Hassaan Bashir, claims that both the shops combined have the largest and best collection of books available in the city. Bashir has been purchasing books from them for five years now and is a satisfied customer. Speaking of Mohammad, Bashir says, “He knows what he’s selling and is very particular about his books. There’s a 70 per cent chance he’ll get you the book you’re looking for. Besides, the way the shops are structured, you can browse the books easily as they are arranged and categorised quite well.”
It’s crucial for a businessman to know his product inside-out. For a book shop keeper, knowing the names of the books is imperative. But this isn’t your posh mall book shop. It’s a stall in a bazaar. Yet, the owners know their books by name, be it The Art of War or Goosebumps. The collection of books ranges from subjects such as pre-history to doctorate level as well as travel guides. The most popular, however, are the new generation literary novels, media related books and children’s classics. These generate the highest sales. Profit maximisation, though, is not the main motive of the shop keepers. They believe in pleasing the customer through their affordable prices. Some of their books are only for Rs10. “They may not bargain much but their prices aren’t bad and they always remember you by face,” says Bashir. The shopkeepers also believe in convenience. They let customers return books they’ve previously bought in exchange for other books in the same price range. Sometimes a Rs 10 to 50 discount is also given. Moreover, the shopkeepers also purchase books from customers as long as they are in good condition.
The humble Mohammad Hussain shared how it was an honour for him to have sold the renowned artist, Iqbal Mehdi’s collection amongst other books to famous people in the media industry and journalists too. Moreover, Mohammad Hussain believes that the only reason they are where they are now is because of their team of 10 to 15 individuals. He doesn’t take the credit for the success of his business alone. He adds that the strong bond between his men and their good workmanship made their business a lucrative and successful one. They have earned the trust of their customers and have goodwill in the industry.
Besides books, the stalls also sell comic books, magazines, gift bags and diaries. The variety of items adds to the pleasurable experience of browsing through the stalls. I would recommend that one should take out the time to peruse through all items. There will definitely be something for you to indulge in.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2011.