A DISCUSSION on libraries always leads to the chicken-and-egg debate. We have few libraries because there are no readers. Or people do not read books as there are no libraries. In Karachi, both are in inadequate numbers.
Belonging to a literary family, the newly appointed commissioner of
Karachi, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, has rightly decided not to get trapped
in this debate. He has proceeded to address the issue of the state of
libraries by setting up a Council of Karachi Libraries comprising 12
members. These councillors have been tasked with the “restoration,
revival and revamping” of the public libraries of the city and upgrading
them. For this, the members will visit every library and prepare a
report on its working. Hopefully, they will also make suggestions on how
libraries can promote the book culture in our society.
When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading Integrity above all→
WOULD you expect to see Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag ka Darya on the shelf of a public library in Glasgow? Probably not. But I actually found Annie Apa, as she was fondly called, in the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). The discovery was made more exciting by the fact that the library was a distinguished one as only a feminist library can be.
Set up in 1991, the GWL has grown and never looked back. In 2015, it celebrated the 25th year of its existence. Containing 30,000 books on women or by women (about 20,000 writers), the GWL is distinct from other libraries by the feminist ownership shown by those who manage it and those who use it. Continue reading Changing Lives→
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading Learning from CLF→
I met Moinuddin Khan, the author of In Search of Readers, in 1962 when I joined the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), Moin Sahib, as we have always called him, was the librarian at PIIA. He is mainly responsible for kindling in me an interest in libraries. Books have been my passion all my life but previously I did not see the library as anything more than a room to stock the books in. The librarian was the person who manned this room, rubberstamped dates on the inside of the back cover, and arranged the books in their places on the shelves when readers scattered them thoughtlessly on the table. He also supposedly kept an eye on visitors to ensure they didn’t pinch any volume! Continue reading Where are the readers?→
IT is a pleasant paradox that in recent years literature festivals have taken Pakistan by storm when our society is not exactly famous for its reading habit. For long we have mourned — and do so even today — our failure to inculcate the love of reading in our children who grow up to be adults with no interest in books.
Hence the flood of events related to books and literature for people of all ages is something to celebrate. They are designed to promote the book culture. Continue reading What’s in a book?→
AT the Children’s Literature Festival in Quetta last month, the provincial education secretary had promised to make provisions for a library in every government school in Balochistan.
If this actually materialises, the province will certainly have something to boast about. A school without a library is like a body without a soul. Can you expect students to love reading if they are not immersed in a world of books that a library creates? Continue reading Librarians as teachers→
NOT many readers would have visited Juna Market, the commercial hub of Karachi where hardware and spices compete with halwa puri to find buyers.
In the ocean of commodities catering to hedonistic pleasures stands a lone modest-looking bookshop that seeks to nourish the mind. It has been doing that for 102 years, an anomaly among its worldly surroundings.
More fascinating than the Abbasi Kutubkhana is the man who sits behind the counter, Habib Husain Abbasi, whose maternal grandfather founded this shop in 1910.
When he died in 1941, his son-in-law Abdul Rasool, who had been his apprentice for over two decades, took charge. His son, the present owner, took over in 1988 when his father passed away suddenly. He had just started writing his memoirs. Habib’s training was his 28-year apprenticeship with his father. He, however, managed to find time to carry on his studies at the Sindh Madressah and the S.M. College from where he graduated.
He is a bookseller in the true meaning the word. In his book Sketches of Some Booksellers of the Times of Dr Samuel Johnson, E. Marston writes of one of the ilk: “He was not a bookseller, but a gentleman who dealt in books.”
It clearly emerges from the sketches of the 10 or so individuals belonging to the 17th-18th century British book trade that being in the company of books and reading them avidly left a stamp on the men of the trade. Erudition, scholarship and eloquence became second nature to them. Intellectual discourse about men of learning was their favourite pastime.
If you read about Sultan Khan, the key figure in The Bookseller of Kabul by award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad, you will find similar attributes in him. In Seierstad’s words, the bookseller of Kabul felt let down by his country, time and again. After spending hours listening to his stories, she felt that “he was himself a living piece of Afghan cultural history, a living book on two feet”.
Habib Abbasi fits these descriptions aptly. Bookselling is a phenomenon which allows books to subsume the seller so totally that he becomes a part of them. Habib doesn’t see his work as a commercial activity. For him his vocation is an act of promoting education and knowledge — khidmat-i-khalq (service to humanity) he calls it.
By the time he was old enough to be browsing among the books his father stocked his shelves with so lovingly, the bookshop had already acquired a name. It became a focal point for scholars, publishers and other booksellers in the quest of knowledge. They came from as far-off places as Iran, Afghanistan and all over India. They still do — the latest visitor being Patrick Laude, professor of theology from Georgetown University and currently based in Doha.
Habib grew up in the company of books and scholars. He recalls the great names from the literary world who would visit the kutubkhana and fraternise with his father such as Allama Abdul Aziz Memon, the vice chancellor of Damascus university, Sindh’s Shamsul Ulema Dr Daudpota, lawyer Khalid Ishaq, well-known writer Pir Hisamuddin Rashidi, Sindh’s renowned scholars Mirza Kalich Beg and Pir Aga Jan Sirhindi, historian Rais Ahmed Jafri and many others. He is a living encyclopaedia on these legendary men of learning.
When I visited his shop on a public holiday — on a working day it is a challenge even for a pedestrian to negotiate his way through the entangled traffic — there was a constant flow of friends and visitors who knew that the Abbasi Kutubkhana was the place to go to for rest and recreation of the intellectual kind. Hence I found myself in pleasant company.
A bookshop is known by the books it keeps. There were no volumes of flashy pulp fiction adorning its shelves. There was a wealth of scholarship crowding the place from encyclopaedias of all variety in Urdu, Arabic and Persian to dictionaries of different languages. Fiction is of the classical variety such as Tilism-i-Hoshruba and Alif Laila which have resurfaced in popular interest.
How does Habib see the future prospects of the book industry in Pakistan? He is reticent and as a matter of principle keeps a low profile. He says he lacks the four key qualities for successful bookselling, namely Qaroon ka khazana (wealth), umr-i-Nooh (long life), sabr-i-Ayub (patience) and Ibn-i-Sina ka ilm (knowledge). He, however, suggests that big literary institutions and publishers — the Iqbal Academy, OUP, Institute of Islamic Culture, he names a few — should start a new tradition of working jointly in the field of book publishing. He feels that they have the resources, the know-how, manpower and networking capacity to produce researched books as agents of learning and scholarship. He feels that thus alone can they counter the challenges posed by piracy and junk publishing that have proliferated in the market. He also stresses the need to broaden our translation base which he feels is not sufficiently developed in Pakistan.
His suggestion reminds me of the two booksellers’ clubs that Marston writes about in his book cited above. One was the Friends of Literature comprising a group of London booksellers who met once a month to discuss literary affairs and also take business decisions on joint publications. The jointly published works were then divided among the booksellers to sell. Paradise Lost, Robinson Crusoe and Goldsmith’s Essays were some outstanding products of this club. There is no denying that we need more researched publications.
TOMORROW is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Library and Information Science Department of the University of Karachi. It was on August 10, 1956, that the department launched its post-graduate diploma programme – the first degree level course for librarians in Pakistan.
A programme in librarianship had been started in Lahore by Asa Don Dickenson, a student of the famous Melvil Dewey in 1915, but it was a certificate course. In 1957, the diploma programme was converted into a degree and a Master’s course. Nearly 3,143 students have graduated from the department in the last 50 years. Its faculty has grown from seven members – many of them part time – under the founding chairman Abdul Moid to nine full time staff members today. Continue reading Progress of library science→
THE news from the library front in Karachi will not cheer the bibliophiles. The plan for a library, that had been promised way back in 1991 by mayor Farooq Sattar who had earmarked for it a three-acre plot of land in Gulshan-i-Iqbal near the Nipa Chowrangi, has now been dropped.
A hospital is to be built there instead. Fifteen years ago, a lot of fanfare had attended the launching of this scheme that was to be designated a city library. Architects were invited to submit designs for this institution and three entries were selected for prizes worth Rs 100,000. The building plan was approved. Continue reading Creating a library culture→