New Hori­zons

Enterprise - - Contents - By Yas­meen Aftab Ali

The read­ing cul­ture Ground­break­ing study on Pak­istani teach­ers launched

A by­gone era

Read­ing and be­ing mem­bers of li­braries, spend­ing time in those quiet halls and get­ting books is­sued for read­ing at homes has be­come a part of a cul­ture un­known to the present gen­er­a­tion. I share an ex­cerpt of a mail sent to me by Khalid Aziz sahib, the younger brother of famed Qu­tub-ud-din Aziz sahib, that beau­ti­fully re­flects the spirit of those days:

“When I was in Grade 9, I had be­come a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Li­brary which was on MA Jin­nah Road, where the Prince Cin­ema stands to­day. I con­tin­ued vis­it­ing the li­brary with my elder brother late Ma­sood Bhai till I left DJ Col­lege and joined MSc classes at Univer­sity of Karachi which was pretty far from our house at that time, Aziz Lodge in Naz­imabad No 4. So I used to re­turn home around 7pm and li­brary tim­ings were 8:30am to 5:30pm so I could not con­tinue my vis­its there. How­ever, trust me, it was the golden pe­riod of my life. I learnt so much from the books .The col­lec­tion was huge and cov­ered many sub­jects. I did well when I went for stud­ies over­seas un­der a gov­ern­ment tech­ni­cal ex­change pro­gram. I frankly feel I owed all this to the ex­tra knowl­edge I gath­ered through the books at the US Li­brary.”

Quaid-e-Azam Li­brary, a beau­ti­ful white build­ing placed in the lush green lawns of Jin­nah Gar­dens, orig­i­nally known as the Old Gymkhana, boasts of roughly 125,000 books on a wide spec­trum of sub­jects. The au­di­to­rium of­ten hosts sem­i­nars and exhibitions. The li­brary is heaven for those who han­ker for good re­search books. Un­for­tu­nately, most other li­braries are ne­glected and desperately need at­ten­tion by the au­thor­i­ties. This in­cludes the Pun­jab Pub­lic Li­brary set up in 1884. The Frere Hall Li­brary, named Li­aquat Hall Li­brary after our first Prime Min­is­ter Li­aquat Ali Khan, is cry­ing for at­ten­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished in a lead­ing daily: ‘An of­fi­cial of the city gov­ern­ment’s cul­ture and sports depart­ment said that for the past four years no book had been pur­chased for the Li­aquat Hall li­brary. Ev­ery year the city gov­ern­ment al­lo­cates Rs300,000 for the pur­chase of books, Rs50,000 for bind­ing of old books and Rs225,000 for news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Ac­cord­ing to Mr Grami, hardly 20 per cent of the al­lo­cated amount is spent by the city gov­ern­ment. ” (Nov 19, 2003)

Then there was the Ghu­lam Hus­sain Khaliq­d­ina Hall Li­brary, built in 1906 with a grand do­na­tion by Ghu­lam Hus­sain Khaliq­d­ina. Karachi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion footed the re­main­ing bill. It is famed that Al­lama Rasheed Turabi would, for the 10 days of Muhar­ram, ad­dress the ma­jalis as­sem­bled there. The li­brary is well known also in the con­text of be­ing the trial ground of Maulana Muham­mad Ali Jauhar, who led the Khi­lafat Move­ment.

The Max Denso Hall and Li­brary was con­structed in 1886. Jamil Khan, a jour­nal­ist, writ­ing for his blog says, “Another sim­ple but at­trac­tive Gothic style build­ing on MA Jin­nah Road, the Denso Hall was built in 1886. This two-storey build­ing ear­lier pro­vided the fa­cil­ity of a pub­lic hall, read­ing room and li­brary for the res­i­dents of the area built in the mem­ory of Max Denso, a prom­i­nent cit­i­zen and six-time Pres­i­dent of Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try. The build­ing also had a clock on its east side but now only the struc­ture is vis­i­ble. Presently, the wa­ter and sew­er­age com­plaint cen­tre of Sadar Town is sit­u­ated in this build­ing.”

One can go on rem­i­nisc­ing about the cul­ture of yes­ter­year.

A deeper re­flec­tion is: What has changed over the years that has taken us away from books, news­pa­pers and li­braries? How can one en­joy read­ing a news­pa­per with­out get­ting the black smudges on one’s fin­gers and en­joy­ing the smell of freshly printed news­pa­per? I re­mem­ber as a young kid, my pocket money was spent ex­clu­sively on buy­ing Enid Bly­ton books (some spent on Paxy choco­late to grat­ify the sweet tooth). For many days till the book re­mained ‘new’, I would bring my nose as close to it as pos­si­ble and hold­ing the bind­ing would al­low the pages to whiff past my nose, send­ing off the beau­ti­ful scent of freshly printed vir­gin pages.

My ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Wa­heed-un-Nisa Begum who lost much of her eye­sight in her old age was very fond of read­ing nov­els by Razia Butt and Fa­tima Mobeen. She would have the nov­els is­sued from a li­brary in Nurs­ery Com­mer­cial Area Round­about that was close by to her res­i­dence in Block 6, PECHS.

One of her daugh­ters-in-law would be en­trusted with the task to is­sue the novel. A reg­is­ter would be main­tained to note what she had read, or more pre­cisely heard. It be­came more and more dif­fi­cult over time to lo­cate a novel she had not yet heard. When in town, I was the pre­ferred choice to read it out to her. Some­thing we both en­joyed very much. I would take on the voice and ex­pres­sion of the char­ac­ters as I read along, im­bib­ing the feel­ing of a live drama that Nanni loved.

Is it the ris­ing use of com­put­ers that al­lows the ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers to go down, mak­ing ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional news­pa­pers eas­ier that has caused the de­cline of li­braries and the cul­ture of read­ing books? Or is it the rise of the new phe­nom­e­non of e-books and/or a plethora of read­ing ma­te­rial avail­able on­line?

What­ever the rea­son may be, it has taken away a beau­ti­ful leisure from our younger gen­er­a­tion. The pop­u­lar­ity of books by Harry Pot­ter, even in Pak­istan, was a joy to wit­ness though. Maybe tak­ing a cue from this pop­u­lar­ity and re­al­is­ing that read­ing days are not re­ally over and need a gen­tle push, Pak­istan saw its first mo­bile li­brary ‘Alif Laila Books Bus’ come to life. Books on shelves, vi­brant col­ored rugs, and stuffed toys wel­come the young read­ers. The stair­case lead­ing to the up­per storey of the bus of­fers a com­fort­able read­ing space of­fer­ing stacks of read­ing ma­te­rial to choose from for young­sters rang­ing from 5 to 15 years of age.

‘Read­ings’ on Main Gul­berg Road, La­hore, opened a few years ago and is a read­ers’ de­light. Be­sides of­fer­ing its cus­tomers new books it has a huge reser­voir of old books that are avail­able at half or less than half the orig­i­nal prices. Fully car­peted, floor cush­ions thrown in-be­tween the aisle of book shelves, small chairs placed strate­gi­cally, wa­ter dis­pensers and pa­per cups avail­able for those vis­it­ing, the air con­di­tioned en­vi­ron­ment of­fers read­ing space for the in-com­ers even if they do not end up pur­chas­ing the books. Read­ings of­fers a wide va­ri­ety of old nov­els and chil­dren’s read­ing ma­te­rial but needs a greater fo­cus on in­creas­ing books on re­lated sub­jects.

Two other book­stores that are heaven for avid read­ers are the Va­ri­ety Books at Lib­erty, Gul­berg, La­hore, and Sang-e-Meel, Multan Road, La­hore.

Frank Zappa was right in say­ing, “So many books, so lit­tle time.”

The writer is a lawyer, aca­demic and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. She has au­thored a book ti­tled ‘A Com­par­a­tive Anal­y­sis of Me­dia & Me­dia Laws in Pak­istan.’

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