LAHORE: The bibliophiles and general readers look forward to book fairs for two reasons: buying books of their choice at special discounts and finding rare books which otherwise they can’t get from the bookstores around the year.

The 34th annual Lahore International Book Fair (LIBF), a regular event in the cultural and literary calendar of the city, is being held at the Expo Centre, Johar Town. Saturday was its third day and it would continue till Monday.

On the first two days, people did attend it but the crowds really picked up on the third day on Saturday when it was hard to find a parking place and there was a rush of customers on the bookstalls. Like every year, the biggest crowds were attracted by stalls set up by Readings, Sang-i-Meel, Oxford University Press and Paramount Books. Readings had the biggest stalls in the whole centre.

For me, the real find was at the rather small stall of Malik Book Depot on the far right of the Expo Centre’s hall. They have got the rare postcards the writers, friends and readers had written to Chaudhry Barkat Ali, the publisher who launched Adab-i-Latif, from Lahore in 1935. The postcards are put in an old folded envelope, with ‘old postcards’ written on it with a ballpoint. The postcards contain all the admiration, anger and love for Chaudhry Barkat Ali that the senders had written to him in brief paragraphs, ranging from one to three. They date back to the pre-partition years and came from as far as Patna, Delhi and other cities in the united India and from the luminaries, including Mirza Adeeb, who served as editor of the magazine. The bookshop has got the editions of the literary journal from the 1950s.

Another source of such literary and historical treasures is the Sidduiqi Rare and Antique Bookshop on the extreme left of the hall. It has got the hardbound 1913 editions of The Comrade, the English newspaper, launched by Muhammad Ali Jauhar in 1911, Ghalib’s poetry illustrated by Chughtai in 1928, Sadequain’s paintings and Kulyaat-i-Ghazliat-i-Khusrau in four volumes. This writer found Love Letters of Dylan Thomas from the bookshop.

All the bookstalls are offering special discounts ranging, mostly 30 to 50pc while some are offering up to 70 to 90pc but that’s mostly junk fiction and literature or old books.

“Inflation has affected the book readers too. The difference is conspicuous,” says Rukhsar who was holding a stall at Readings.

“Though there is a rush of people today (Saturday) compared to the previous two days, it’s still less as compared to previous years,” he says.

Despite this not-so-encouraging statement by Rukhsar, one could see the rush of people in a rather long queue at the payment counter.

Speaking to Dawn, Mian Babar, one of the organisers of the LIBF, says there are 260 stalls set up at the fair this year.

“We organise the festival on a non-commercial basis and spend about Rs10m on it. We used to get complimentary space for posting adverting panaflex on the city roads but this time, despite permission from the government, the authorities removed them. The expenditure incurred on them was wasted.”

Mian Babar complains of getting no support from the authorities, saying that the organisers should be supported by the government for managing such a mega event of the city, at least by giving some concessions or arranging tours to it by public schools and colleges.

“The ministers who were invited for the inauguration refused to do that and we roped in Pemra Chairman Saleem Baig for the inauguration,” says Mian Babar.

Many writers visited the fair, including Amjad Islam Amjad, Abbas Tabish, Zahid Hussain, Shahzad Nayyar, Neelam Ahmed Bashir and Asim Butt. Amjad Islam Amjad launched his new poetry collection, Zara Si Baat, on the first day of the fair and signed copies for his fans. It’s a selection from his earlier published poetry.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020