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September 28, 2020

‘COVID-19 situation in October to decide fate of Karachi International Book Fair’

Karachi

September 28, 2020

While there’s a constant demand for many kinds of books, it’s unfortunate that they aren’t being published, said Khalid Aziz, chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, which has been annually organising the Karachi International Book Fair (KIBF) at the Expo Centre since 2005.

When asked if there’s any possibility of the KIBF this year given the COVID-19 pandemic, Aziz, who also owns the Urdu Academy Sindh publishing house, told The News that his association has already booked the Expo Centre from December 5 to 9, but they might cancel the event if the situation isn’t favourable.

Aziz said the COVID-19 situation in October will be the deciding factor regarding this year’s KIBF. He said his association will have to see if the government allows them to hold a multi-day event and if the organisers can ensure compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) throughout the programme.

He also said if they can’t hold the book fair, which has indeed become one of the grandest annual cultural activities of the city, it will be held next year, for which also they have booked the Expo Centre for five days.

Readers’ paradise

Aziz shared how the KIBF has become a key academic and cultural event of Pakistan, saying that its success has resulted in grand book fair events in other cities of the country.

He remarked that the sale of books that’s achieved in just five days of the KIBF equals that of what normally occurs in six to seven months. He said publishers and booksellers from all over Pakistan attend the KIBF, where they record enormous sales.

In a KIBF, recalled Aziz, a publisher from Lahore was distributing sweets on the last day of the book fair to celebrate the purchase orders worth Rs14 million that he was able to get during the event.

Aziz also shed light on the participation of foreign organisations in the KIBF: once a German firm rented one of the three halls of the Expo Centre where the event took place and asked the organisers to provide the stalls there to those publishers and booksellers who couldn’t afford the rent.

For the 2007 KIBF, said Aziz, they had even entered into talks with the Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair) to bring international publishers to Karachi, but the latter pulled out after the Karsaz tragedy occurred, while the Srinagar University was invited at one of fairs and all of their books were sold.

Challenges

Holding the KIBF has not been a smooth road for Aziz and his association. Even after successful years of the event, they have to resist the authorities regarding rent and other matters. He said the rent for a three-by-three-square-yard stall at the book fair is Rs60,000 but the Expo Centre authorities want them to charge Rs100,000 for that size of a stall.

He also had many stories to tell about various literary and academic bodies of the country that didn’t want to pay the rent despite receiving government funding. When the first KIBF took place, he recalled, Dr Hameeda Khuhro was Sindh’s education minister. He said she congratulated him on holding the grand book fair but complained of no stall of Sindhi books, to which he replied that his association had invited the Sindhi Adabi Board, the Sindhi Language Authority and others, but they wanted concessions and perks, which the association couldn’t afford to give them.

Aziz said she was perturbed by this and promised that if the book fair was held the following year, she would make sure all such organisations participated. “Next year, they all not only came but also paid the full rent.”

He said now his association is offering free space to the organisations that can’t pay the rent because they want to ensure books in all the languages of Pakistan at the book fair. He recalled that once they had invited a government body for Pashto literature to attend the KIBF, but those heading it had demanded a return air ticket as well as accommodation in a five-star hotel, which of course wasn’t possible for the booksellers association to provide.

He also recalled the time when Makhdoom Amin Fahim had been the trade minister, saying that the Expo Centre had drastically increased the rent for the event and Fahim had to be approached for intervention, following which the rent was reduced by Rs1.5 million.

Substandard paper

The Urdu Academy Sindh is one of the publishers of the books developed by the Sindh Textbook Board Jamshoro. When asked why the textbooks aren’t printed on good-quality paper, Aziz said they aren’t allowed to publish government textbooks on imported high-quality paper, while the local paper is substandard.

He lamented that the government has been increasing duty on imported paper, due to which books are becoming expensive. He recalled that once the then federal education minister Jehangir Ashraf Qazi had promised to resolve the issue in the following budget, but when the time came to present that budget, the government had changed.

Books here to stay

Disagreeing with the perception of certain segments of society that books are becoming obsolete due to e-books and a general decline in the habit of reading, Aziz said books are in fact in high demand, and the sales at the KIBF are proof of it.

He was of the view that against the demand of certain kinds of books, there is little or no supply. He gave the example of children’s books in regional languages of Pakistan. He said there’s a huge demand for such books but they aren’t being written or published.

He also said that mushrooming private schools have turned out to be a blessing for the publishing industry because these educational institutions tend to maintain libraries, for which they have to purchase books in bulk.

On the contrary, he lamented, many public schools in interior Sindh have only the facade of a school, while inside them are poultry and livestock instead of students.