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December 9, 2019

Instead of aroma of food, Karachi opts for whiff of fresh paper


December 9, 2019

Word of mouth is that talking is the second most popular activity in Karachi. What tops the list of recreational activities is dining out. Should we even count eating as a recreational activity in the first place?

Instead of looking for food for thought, we search for junk food. The frequent openings of burger joints in the city are a testament to our “sense of taste”. However, literary enthusiasts and book lovers had a breath of fresh air last week in the metropolitan, which otherwise is filled with the aroma of barbecue and fast food.

Here, the 12th Urdu Conference pulled impressive crowds at the Karachi Arts Council. There, scores of people have been showing up at the Karachi Expo Centre for the 15th Karachi International Book Fair. Both the events kicked off on Thursday, with the former concluding on Sunday and the latter ending on Monday (today).

Some complained that the two annual events should not have been held simultaneously. However, people who came from outside the city to attend one event were happy that they could visit the other as well.

This time round, the Urdu Conference featured more sessions than ever before. Also, more book stalls were seen at the four-day moot than the previous years.

While the stalls at the Urdu Conference had an overwhelming majority of books on literature (mostly in Urdu), the five-day book fair is offering books on a wide range of subjects.

However, books on literature — both in Urdu and English — are present in good numbers at the Expo Centre too. Some stalls have books on history, science, language, psychology and career counselling. There are plenty of books for children as well.

A large number of course books for school and college students attracted many pupils over the weekend. Many madrasa students were also seen at the fair.

A huge quantity of Islamic books is available at the display. My interactions with the staff at Islamic book stalls suggested that their sales are impressive at the fair. In their words, people with an interest in religion (Islam) buy books in good quantities.

For the past many years (except the last one when I was pursuing LLM in Religion, Law & Society at a London-based university), I too purchased plenty of books on Islam at the annual fair. But the book which I wanted to buy this time round was nowhere to be found.

I was looking for the King James Bible. Instead of the book, I got some bizarre reactions at the fair. It is understandable that sellers put books on display that are in demand or are likely to be sold. But why would they make faces while learning that a customer wants a copy of the Bible?

A few of them asked about my religion, others immediately shook their heads. “No, no. Why would we have a Bible?” a salesman hurriedly uttered. When I visited stalls of major publishers, they told me that the book had not been in print for the past few years.

It’s time we realise that we should give a sense of inclusion to our religious minorities in all walks of life. Last year in London, I saw copies of the Quran, the Bible and other holy scriptures easily available at universities and also at many book fairs and shops.

People would also generously distribute free copies of sacred books, including the Quran, on Oxford Street in London. I hope that next year, books on other religions would be available at the fair for members of religious minorities and for students of religions like me.