Even though books have taken to more electronic forms in the last few years, bibliophiles still happen to be drawn to the printed word. There are people thus who carry on in this trade and provide us with books. They shoulder the weight of this responsibility despite the financial instability of their work, yet they keep finding themselves evicted from their commercial spaces.
One such place in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal has provided space for these book sellers and their stalls, just opposite the famous Bait-ul-Mukarram mosque. Some of the stalls that have been present are over 25 to 30 years old.
From being declared illegal to political party functions and other events being held at the ground, the reasons given by the authorities for evicting these bookstalls vary. This year, during Ramazan, a Bachat Bazaar (flea market), was held on that field for a whole month after the book vendors were removed. This left the ground in a mess with standing water and trash piles, causing the book vendors a lot of inconvenience, in addition to a month of lost wages.
These booksellers persevere through every kind of weather. They open their stalls in the scorching heat or the discomforting cold so that the book lovers can find the books they want. The books sold here are available only at this ground or in Saddar.
Though the bookstalls in Saddar suffer from the same issues; they are declared illegal and subject to removal, whereas no consistent reason is given to remove the stalls at the Gulshan ground.
People who visit these spaces opine that the government either lets these stalls be or provide the sellers with a permanent space to put them up. “If the government wants rent we are willing to pay it, but we shouldn’t be evicted and left jobless like this, every other day. We are going into debt because of these situations as our only source of income are these books,” the vendors responded with resentment.
Purchasing power is a serious concern for most people who treasure reading. “Whenever these stalls are removed, our reading habits are seriously affected. We can easily buy three to four books from here for the same price we can buy a book from a store.”
Tahmeena, a customer at the book stalls, said that she had been coming here for 10 years. She also said that mostly bestsellers and those books in contemporary demand were available here. However, if one shows up numerous times and asks for the same book, or places an order for it, the book required is made available.
Abdul Raheem has been a book vendor on this ground since 1979, back when his father used to sell books in the same area. After the demise of his father, Raheem has been selling books for over 25 years now at this place. Raheem was asked by the government to sell books here. All this time, he has been keeping these books preserved so that the valuable knowledge they contain can be brought to the people.
He laments the litter left by fruit and vegetables stalls at the back and the condition of the field in which they have to sell books.
Meanwhile, the book stalls in Saddar’s Urdu Bazar are deemed illegal and forcibly removed. One of the book vendors in Urdu Bazar said that they get evicted from their space at least once every year. Saqib, a 14 year old book vendor in Urdu Bazar, wanted to study but ended up working at the stall. He tries to support his family with a limited earning of Rs 6,000 a month.
The books at Saqib’s stall are provided by his boss who provides transportation to him from Lalukhet. His boss also owns all the book stalls at Urdu Bazar.
Eviction of the stalls is an everyday occurrence for the vendors. When asked how they dealt with this, one of the sellers laughed it off by saying, “we are Pakistani, and whenever we are removed we come back and put our stalls back up.”
Business is impacted but most frequent customers return to these markets. The sense of attachment they have with these bazaars and with the vendors is unmatched.