Present day Karachi is a tough place for booksellers. They should be declared an endangered specie already. Chances are that there won’t be any bookshops in old quarters of the town in few years. The Karachi Walla will miss them.
Zafar Hussain, the owner of Pioneer Book House is a charming character. Sitting in the his lonely wooden corner, he has seen the world change. ‘It’s the age of technology and I understand that most of the readers of professional books find it easier to read books online’, he says. ‘That’s why I am willing to shut this shop if I get a decent offer and donate these books’, he adds with a firm face.
The Pioneer Bookstore specializes in Law books, understandably due to its proximity to City Courts but it has history and occasional coffee table books too. The bookstore was established in 1940’s and has remained with Zafar’s family, with his uncle and father joining his grandfather at later stages. Zafar himself joined the bookshop and small publishing house in 80’s and been with it ever since. He has seen landscape of Bunder road change, for worse mostly. ‘Who would want to come here all the way from their office in midst of traffic and all’, he tells me. ‘Sometimes I open the shop at ten and at other around 12 since the business is slow’, he says wistfully.
Shehzad – a former employee at Pioneer Book Shop who is visiting his former boss – takes me on the tour of bookshop. It looks tiny from the entrance but has a wide storage space upstairs. Shehzad works for Karachi University now but takes pride in his association with the bookstore. He blames lack of focus and effort on people’s part also for slow pickup of books. ‘One still needs to refer to a lot of books but no one is willing to do the hard work’, he says. He shows me a pile of the books that he ordered ten years ago but most of the copies still remain. The stuck up inventory has stopped Zafar from investing any further in new editions of the books. we climb down to the wooden ceiling on top of the front entrance, all in original condition since the beginning of the last century. I take a glimpse down and see Zafar sitting quietly in his corner as if mourning the demise of book reading culture.
There must be a lot of well-off lawyers in Karachi who would have purchased something from Pioneer Book House at some stage in their career. Can they show up and help this bookstore survive?