Deep inside a shop on main Jinnah Road in Quetta, there stands a man with a trimmed beard and a thin mustache, surrounded by local intellectuals, poets and authors.
He answers queries from his customers, who each inquire about their desired titles while being surrounded by thousands of books.
The man's name is Baz Khan Alamyar, and he is the owner of a shop called Kitab Ploranzai, which translates roughly to 'bookstore'.
Kitab Ploranzai is located in Regent Plaza, which stands on Quetta’s bustling Jinnah Road, an area frequented by politicians, bureaucrats and journalists.
It carries titles on various subjects, including philosophy, geography, Marxism, culture and current affairs. Its shelves hold books in many different languages and over 700 topics.
Before it sold books, however, the shop supplied weapons for seven years.
When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, allies of the United States started providing the Mujahideen with modern weapons in a bid to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. As a result, shops selling licensed weapons cropped up all across Quetta.
Aiming to arm the locals with words and wisdom over arms and ammunition, Khan, a 35 year old writer who previously compiled books, decided to convert one such outlet into a bookstore.
The previous owners, who were selling firearms through the shop, decided to close down when the owners' brother, a police officer, fell prey to a targeted killing.
'I have succeeded in replacing the pistol with the dialogues of Plato,” Khan says. “My initiative is to replace guns with pens.”
“I thought the best way to earn daily bread is to sell books,” he adds.
Within a few weeks of its inauguration on March 22, Kitab Ploranzai has established a strong customer base.
By creating a Facebook page for his shop, Khan has not only reached customers in Karachi and Peshawar, but has also received orders from Dubai and Sharjah.
The page advertises books with their titles and prices, and dispatches them to customers who provide their address.
Before the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, Quetta was the intellectual capital of the province, with bookstores renting out copies to students and book-lovers, spreading knowledge and encouraging the marginalized to study.
Today, however, the thirst for reading books is fast fading.
While there still remain around a dozen shops in Quetta selling licensed arms, there are also about 20 bookstores; most of them located on Jinnah Road, near Kitab Ploranzai.
“Pleasure reading has reduced in Balochistan,” says Zubair Bukhari.
His father, Mansoor Bukhari, is the owner of one of the oldest bookstores, established 65 years ago. Baloch and Pashtun authors and poets visit Bukhari's store in the evening, engaging in political and cultural conversations.
Zubair adds that the best-selling books are mostly those required by students for examinations such as the CSS or provincial exams.
However, in a city that has battled violence for over a decade, bookstores such as Kitab Ploranzai may be considered “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
All photos by Hafeezullah Sherani.