Karachi to lose oldest bookstore for lack of public interest

Karachi to lose oldest bookstore for lack of public interest

KARACHI: Karachi's one of the oldest bookstores, which was opened before the established and creation of Pakistan, is ready to close down, since people are rarely buying books in country's biggest city.

The owner of the Pioneer Book House, Zafar Hussain has announced that if someone is interested in running the bookstore, he is ready to donate.

Pioneer Book House was established before partition, in a building which is old and dilapidated now located on M. A Jinnah Road, near City Court, has been running for several decades.

After the passage of 68 years, the surroundings have been changed but this book house still brings back the memories of the 1940's era.

There was a time that trams, used to bustle in the front of Pioneer Book House, a time was when the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used to come here for buying books in his student life, Once he came here with his full protocol and bought some books, when was Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In addition, "Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Khalid Ishaq Advocate, Anita Ghulam Ali, AK Brohi, Abrar al Hassan Advocate and several other personalities used to came here to buy books because Pioneer Book House was uncompetitive in Law and on imported books, in the whole of city", Zafar Hussain, owner of book house told Daily Times.

There were two branches of Pioneer Book House, one was named as Nobel stationary, established in Karachi while the other was Bombay Renown, situated at Fort Road Bombay (Mumbai), and these two branches were the sub parts of Faber and Castle Serving and Leveling Instruments Agency.

It was under British law that an Agency must have at least two branches in United India, therefore Anyat Hussain, a Businessman of that time, established one of its branch in Karachi in 1945. After the partition of India, after loosing Bombay's branch decided to open a new business.

"My Father Anayat Hussain established this Book house in 1948, while I was born in 1955 and I am running this shop, since 1975. When I was a child I had traveled with my father on a tram for coming here". There were used to be trams for local passengers, where huge traffic is passing nowadays, said Zafar Hussain .

"Whenever I glance outside the shop, I recall those past days and think about that trams which used to pass from here ", said elderly Ali Asghar, owner of the Pioneer Book House.

The building of the book house is an ancient building, and was built before the 1900's, in the era of the Hindu domination on business in Karachi. There are several shops in the building's ground floor including 91 years old tailoring shop which was established in 1925.

While the building has been declared a protected site by Archeology Department, Sindh, and it cannot be demolished. However the building is unmodified, steps and doors are wooden, has iron hasp, hinges and old style roof.

Initially, name of the building was Avon and afterwards Government of Pakistan declared it as forsaken property and auctioned it in 1973, which was purchased by Sultan Ahmed while his son Samiullah is the current owner of the building and he has renamed it as Sami Chamber.

"Ram Jethmalani, the leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and former Law Minter of India, was also a resident of the upper floor of Avon building. He had established SM Mallaney Company at that time, surprisingly, K-Electric is still sending utility bills on the name of his company", said Ali Asghar digging into the past.

There are lots of books which were published at that time such as Law Books, Income tax, constitutional books of foreign countries, official gazettes, applications and other official publications, which are still present in the book shop. Lawyers, researchers and Tax Advisors etc were the customers of these books but internet piracy has replaced all this stuff, hence the book business is suffering from recession, he added.

"Rent of the book house was five or ten Rupees, which had increased to Rs 130 in 1981 and the current rent is Rs 15 thousand. Since 1980, the shop has been robbed 28 times, in which most of our customers have lost their cash, watches and precious things", Zafar Hussain told Daily Times.

Pioneer Book House used to have the printing rights of Government of Pakistan publications, and there were 256 books, magazines, reports, journals which used to be published at that time but now only three publications, Pakistan Economics Survey, Pakistan Statistical Affairs and Statistical Bulletin are being published though the House but once in a blue a customer comes to buy it.

"No one in our family is interested to sustain this business any further , because book selling has become a non-profitable business, if someone is interested in buying the shop, I will donate all books in the library, because no body out there is interested in buying these books", he added