In Pakistan the habit of reading books has declined to an alarming level. There are various causes that can be attributed to the sad state of readership. The mushrooming of TV channels, high prices of books and the new trend of ‘job-oriented’ education are considered major causes of the decline in reading. However, the notion that people no longer appreciate books does not hold true especially since students and the general public are ready to read. The problem lies with the formidable prices of books. Moreover, libraries in this city of millions are few and these too have old and worm-eaten books. The eager reader is left with no option but to look for spots in the city where old books are sold at comparatively low prices.
The foremost of such places is the Regal Chowk in Saddar which has served book lovers for many decades. Books are stacked on pushcarts or displayed on sheets spread on the footpath. These mobile booksellers are shrewd but the rules are simple. Do not show your enthusiasm when you locate a book that you desperately need and have been trying to find for a long time. Cast a cursory glance at it. When you look at it show no emotion. The bookseller is observing you carefully. Pick one or two books including the one you want to buy and ask their prices. The disinterest will unsettle the chap and he will give you the right price. Grab it and run before he changes his mind or realises that he has been outsmarted by you.
Ahmed Ali, now in his sixties, has been selling books at the Regal Chowk since he was a young man. “I am a matriculate and I can read the titles and evaluate the worth of books. Different people come to me looking for particular titles and I know they need those books and I can state my own
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