Tuesday, March 29, 2011


‘Education is common but Knowledge is rare’: Saien Ditta, a vendor at Old Books Stall at H-9 Sunday Bazaar

By Mahtab Bashir


How many types of books are there? The philosopher Francis Bacon answered four centuries ago, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

During a visit to H-9 Sunday Bazaar, when this scribe asked the complementary question, how many types of readers are there? Saien Ditta- the old books vendor said some read only if they have to, others read anything they can get hold of, yet others search for challenges. Some like poetry, while others enjoy non-fiction. Some readers start a book hesitantly until the writer casts a spell on them; others open books with great gusto but abandon them after a few pages.

Ditta, 47 sitting on a bench inside his Stalls No. D-502 & D-503 while talking to Daily Times said that book reading habit no doubt is on the verge of decline because of rapidly integrated computer technology where anyone could access at any time with spending a meager amount and that too without leaving their homes.
“I have put up all sort of books from Urdu, English literature to Persian, French, Italian, German and literature from all over the world. Besides a wide range of course books from matriculation levels to graduation, local and international magazines, cooking books, English novels and stationary, but unfortunately the customers are few,” Ditta said.

There are around 5 old book stalls in H-9 Bazaar held under the banner of Capital Development Authority (CDA) selling various sort of literature books and academic books for students but it was witnessed during the visit that only students who are preparing for their exams are frequently visiting these stalls and asking for guess papers/ keys/ or guide books from the bookstalls vendors. I have been doing this business because of my romance for reading books for the last 15 years. “I take a strange sense of satisfaction while reading a book and this trait of mine pushed me establishing this business I started from G-9 Bazaar Sunday Bazaar that is now shifted to H-9 Bazaar,” Ditta said.

When asked why this habit of reading books is on the verge of extinct, Ditta said smilingly in Pakistan it was never on the rise. “Centuries ago, there was no Internet facility in Europe but whole Europe experienced the intellectual revolution when philosophers and intellectuals brought prosperity to their respective countries,” he said adding I have access to modern technology but still I steal more pleasure reading book instead of browsing on internet.

Another reason that caused the downfall of reading books is everyone has become selective. “Students just picked the books for reading and getting good grades to pass the examination and later find a good job but hardly anyone grab the literature books to enhance his knowledge,” Ditta said adding now ‘Education is pretty common these days but Knowledge is rare’, he said precisely.

To a question, Ditta said the fundamental reason of decrease in book lovers is the ongoing inflation and interest of people comes later. Quoting an incident, he said a young kid comes to his stall thrice as he was interested to get a book but her mother took her to away on an adjacent stall of a food where they both had cold drinks and snacks,” Ditta said smilingly. He said 90 percent of his customers are students while just 10 percent of customers visited his stall for literature books, novels, magazines, or cooking books etc.

“I am doing a government job as well and purchased books from Lahore and other jumbo book stalls on a cheap rates and offered my customers on a 50 percent discount and sometime lesser than 50 percent rates but still I found them reluctant to buy books, Ditta said adding customers leave the stall saying price is not affordable to him/her.

“There was a time when I used to sell good bulk of books a month time, now I only manage (to sell) just few in a day, “ he said. But still it is a good source of knowledge, I am selling it to my satisfaction and people like me are buying it to theirs’, Ditta said.

Daily Times,
however, found that a few dedicated patrons of these shops still exist. Mahwish, a housewife, while purchasing a couple of Urdu novels said that she has been a vivacious reader since her childhood. “It has everything to give me guideline of settling the domestic issues, nurturing the kids and how to struck a balance between home and outside affairs,” Mahwish said adding reading Urdu digest guided her understanding the child psychology.

Another English novel lover, Rafea Manan said there is a mustiness and familiarity to old bookshops that isn’t always found in the glossiness of larger bookstores in the city. “I can have some unique books from here at time that are centuries old and thus haven’t lost their uniqueness,” she said.
People like Mahwish and Rafea, however, are in minority.

Many of us no longer have the time to be huddled-in with old books.
The prognosis for these old books’ stalls is not good; they are fighting a battle for their very survival- when many believe they might very well already have lost.

A study carried out by the University of California at San Diego found out that people in the US were consuming more words on average now than in the 1980s. But this was mainly due to increase in online activities including facebooking, tweeting and blogging etcetera.
Pakistan has an Internet penetration of about 10.6 per cent (the second highest in South Asia, after the Maldives), according to Internet World Stats, and PTA expects it to rise rapidly in the coming years.

published in Daily Times, Monday, March 29,

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