Once during Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s (1916-2006) tenure as the director general of the Majlis-i-Tarraqi-i-Adab, Lahore, a sarkari babu compiled a report against the institution and the biggest ‘charge’ framed was that despite being given funds every year for decades, the Majlis had not been able to ‘earn profit’ and had not become ‘self-sufficient’.
The babu from the audit department had argued that even a kapre ki dukaan (cloth shop) would reach a break-even in three years.
Qasmi Sahib, a renowned poet, short story writer and journalist — an octogenarian at that time — was so exasperated that he resigned the post saying that there was a difference between a learned body and a cloth shop.
He said that a literary and academic institution was not meant to make money and that for that purpose the government had created the National Bank of Pakistan.
As this caused a furore among the intellectuals, the then Punjab chief minister apologised, requested Qasmi Sahib to take his resignation back and approved a few additional millions for the Majlis’ ongoing projects.
This reflects the mindset of the bureaucracy that thinks of an academic or literary or educational institution as any government department, notwithstanding the fact that almost every government department is a financial black hole.
Though the general perception about the government institutions created for the promotion of literary, cultural and scholarly activities is not very positive, whenever some scholar or author is appointed to head these institutions, they almost always perform well, at least better than they fare under the babus.
For instance, Dr Farman Fatehpuri ran Urdu Dictionary Board quite well for about 10 years. The Idara-i-Farogh-i-Qaumi Zaban (formerly Muqtadira Qaumi Zaban) worked wonderfully when headed by scholars such as Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi, Dr Waheed Qureshi, Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik, Iftikhar Arif and others.
The performance of Idara-i-Saqafat-i-Islamia, Lahore, under Siraaj-i-Muneer was amazing. Ashfaq Ahmed took the Urdu Science Board to new heights (in fact he earned profit and built a new building for the board with that money).
Ibn-i-Insha did quite well as head of the National Book Council of Pakistan. The recent examples are the Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab and the Pakistan Academy of Letters that seem to have got a shot in the arm after the appointment of Dr Tehseen Firaqi and Dr Qasim Bughio, respectively.
Another good example of a scholar doing well as the head of an academic and literary organisation is Dr Inamul Haq Javed who, after taking the charge about a year ago, has infused a new life into the National Book Foundation.
The NBF was created through the act of parliament in November 1972. The aims of the creation of the NBF were: to get books written, to encourage authors, to publish books and make them available at affordable prices, to translate books from foreign languages into Pakistani languages and vice versa, to reprint local and foreign books with due permission, to protect rights of the authors, to encourage publishers and booksellers, to import textbooks for students and/or prepare their local and affordable editions, with permission, to provide stakeholders with technical assistance for producing better quality books, to engage in any activity that helps promote literacy and reading habits.
The NBF has its headquarters in Islamabad with regional centres in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. Recently, it has expanded its presence and established branches in other cities, including Faisalabad, Multan, Wah Cantt, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Sukkur, Larkana and Jacobabad. Besides, it has established its bookstalls at airports and railway stations.
The NBF not only gives readers hefty discounts on any book purchased at an NBF outlet but by becoming a member of its Book Club one can get as much as 50 to 55 per cent discount on books.
The NBF’s bookshops and regional offices offer for sale books published by other publishers as well. What is encouraging to note is that of late, the number of books sold by the NBF has increased amazingly.
Dr Inamul Haq Javed, director general of the NBF, told this writer that the NBF had sold books worth a staggering Rs300 million this year. Its Islamabad bookshop alone sells books worth a few hundred thousand rupees every day, yes, every day! When this writer said that the common perception was that most people did not read and books did not sell well in Pakistan, he said: “It is propagated either by publishers who keep on publishing new editions without paying royalties to the authors or by new and young poets who self-publish their poetry and when it does not sell, they feel nobody reads books these days.”
He added: “Books do sell well in Pakistan. At the recently held book fair on National Book Day Festival in Islamabad the number of books sold by the NBF was in millions.”
An author and compiler of about 50 books himself, Dr Javed is a staunch supporter of writers’ rights. He feels that rights of authors must be protected or else many would-be great writers would fail to emerge so. “And we at the NBF make sure that the writers get their royalties. In some cases we even pay royalty as soon as the book is printed, without waiting for the book to sell,” he said.
A booklover himself naturally, Dr Javed says: “To offer low-priced books to booklovers is one of my aims. We had published Ataul Haq Qasmi’s Safar name a few months ago. We priced it quite reasonably and it sold out within a few months. As a result, we are printing its second edition, which will be priced even lower”.
One of the appreciable activities that the NBF is engaged in is the publishing of Braille books, especially Braille Quran. The NBF has its own Braille press and one hopes it will enhance its activities to help the blind read, as books are perhaps the only light people with impaired vision have in their lives.
In addition to publishing a large number of books every year, including textbooks, the NBF also publishes an Urdu magazine named Kitab, which covers activities related to books, printing, publishing and education.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2015