The eight-year-old Karachi International Book Fair has now become the Karachi Book Ijtimaa. I have not mentioned ‘International’ in the title because a conference or a book fair becomes ‘international’ when at least a few foreign writers or publishers participate in it.
But the book fair in question was more like a book ijtimaa instead. The ‘Arms for Peace’ exhibition was held at the same venue recently. Ironically I had previously expressed a wish in my blog to have a ‘Books for Peace’ exhibition instead. About a month later, I entered the venue with my family and realised that we might have just ended up in an ijtimaa instead of a book fair.
Hall No. 1 proved to be a bedazzling sight. There were stalls selling religious books everywhere. People crowded around them buying books in bulk. Previously in my blog, I had complained about the demise of people’s reading habits. Well, books were being sold and people were buying. Whether or not those books were being read is a different story. What can be said for sure is that they would not lack attention. They would be kissed with reverence and placed as shelf ornaments around the house. Thus the buyers would be content in thinking that they would at least be eligible to obtain blessings for their purchases.
Most stalls had banners announcing 50-70 per cent discounts, motivating buyers to buy from them. One stall had a banner that said ‘We provide books free of cost.’ It had pamphlets instead of books that people picked up in bulk. We love to receive things for free and these pamphlets were meant to ensure the betterment of both our world and faith so how could one not take them?
This is not all. There were full arrangements to satisfy the demands of the high-tech era that we live in. Digital books, CDs, and DVDs of all the great naatkhwans’ and elegant speeches of the senior scholars were available for sale, according to today’s fashion. The DVDs were also being played on large monitors. The passers-by gained blessings by watching the DVDs on monitors while the buyers purchased these high-tech methods of reliving their faith. Even religious ringtones became a burgeoning trade as people could refresh their faith by listening to your religious ringtone.
According to the management of the book ijtimaa, many publishers stopped dealing in the literature of the arts and sciences. Instead, they increasingly began to deal in religious books because after 9/11 there was a growing inclination towards them. Now they are prospering immensely. However, the Maktab-e-Daniyal continued selling books on literature, history and philosophy at their corner stall. It was as if our Hoori Noorani wasn’t going to give up and stood in the middle of this ijtimaa with her head held high. On the other hand, there was the Fiction House stall where you could find books on all fields of study. The Pakistan Academy of Letters was selling literary books published by the government at their stall. But the title of every book looked the same so it seemed as though the same book was stacked everywhere at the stall.
The first stall selling Sindhi books turned out to be selling religious books in the Sindhi language. In the corner of Hall No. 3, there was a stall displaying and selling Sindhi books by the Sindhica Academy, selling both religious and literary books. The Sindhi Adabi Board, Sindhi Language Authority, Sindh Culture Department had also joined the Sindhica Academy. Apart from the few religious books in the Sindhi language, there were books about literature, history, philosophy, poetry and other topics available at the stall. However, the posters and Culture Department’s banner hanging above the stall had photos of Sassui Palijo and Qaim Ali Shah displayed prominently on the posters. The Sindhi Adabi Board posters had the photo of its chairman Makhdoom Jamiluz Zaman. As the board’s responsibility now rests with a clerk, he also had a large banner with his name hung above the stall. It looked like if their names and photos were taken off, the books might not sell.
One stall said ‘Literary Committee’ on top. We thought it was a literary committee run by the ‘ijtimaa’ management but it wasn’t. It was a completely different committee and it displayed books written by and about the Quaid-e-Tehreek and bore his photographs too. This was another attempt amidst the crowd of religious publishers. Our NGOs receive hefty funding to publish various reports and books every year. These publications never materialize in front of the common eye, but are only distributed in large amounts at their sales-pitch conferences. Literary books that are already funded only appear at a few bookstores at exorbitant prices like other books. However it is precisely because they were funded, that these publications should be reasonably priced so that people can buy them.
If these NGO publications written and/or translated by renowned writers are sold in bookstores at reasonable prices, then these books could actually perform the functions they were printed for; to spread awareness about said NGO. At least these books would not just become ornamental pieces on NGO workers’ bookshelves. They are too busy with their meetings and conferences. If they could take out time from all those red tape procedures and socialising, maybe then they could get themselves a stall at this book fair where their publications could effectively be made more public.
The number of stalls selling religious books at the book fair was as high as 80 per cent. The majority of the remaining 20 per cent stalls sold academic textbooks of technology, IT and management, which are all fields that are enjoying some popularity right now. The rest were sold large numbers of children’s books. It felt good to see parents bringing their children, who are our future and hope, to the book fair and buying them books. The children also bought books of their own choice and started reading them immediately. There was a child in whom I saw the future writer and thinker. I quickly captured that moment in my camera and left with the memory of this boy, the solitary flame of hope I saw in the entire ijtimaa.
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