Although every inch of my humble home in Islamabad is close to my heart, there is one particular room that is my favorite. It is a place where I take sanctuary whenever I am beset with professional or personal pressures. Here I am amongst friends, who tell me stories and transport me to lands of mystery and adventure. I often doze off, while my friends are busy storytelling and wake up refreshed and recharged to take on the world.

Since this special room is hallowed ground, none can enter without my knowledge, except my grandchildren (who happen to be on very good terms with my friends) and my cat. My friends spend their days and nights resting on wooden shelves pampered in the knowledge that they have a special place in my life.

This special relationship began more than six decades ago, when a distinguished looking old gentleman led a small child into a similar room and introduced him to rows upon rows of books. When this individual passed away, his treasure trove was passed on to me, the little child in the story. With time, my interest in the written word grew into an insatiable passion and gradually the living space in my home began to shrink because of my frequent trips to book stores.

These book stores became my cherished part time habitat, as I began carrying a folding chair in the back of the car, so that I could sit in front of racks, browse through books and then buy them by the dozen. The arrival of my first mail order package containing the complete works of P G Wodehouse generated fireworks with my better half at its center. They say that time is a big pacifier, because now whenever packages arrive, my wife just looks at them, grimaces and walks away.

I learnt the art of book collection the hard way and suffered considerable losses, when my friends borrowed books, never to return them. Then I saw the adage, “He’s fool who lends a book and he’s a bigger fool who returns it.” I now follow the first half of the saying in letter and spirit.

When books got expensive I resorted to visiting old book shops and footpath vendors. It was here that I found gems that ignorant people had thrown away as trash. For example I picked up the first edition of ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by T E Lawrence for the price of peanuts. My National Geographic World Atlas was picked up for free from a sack of books being disposed by a library free of cost, as was a rare book on Lahore printed in the late nineteenth century and containing the signatures of its author. My greatest treasure however is a Persian manuscript titled ‘Bahar e Daanish’ carrying a seal dating from the reign of the Moghul King Farukh Ser.

During my last visit to a Sunday book sale on Regent Street, London, I came across a box containing old volumes. I sat down next to the box and began sifting the contents one by one, until bingo! I discovered six hard bound volumes of some of the greatest pieces of 18th century literature at throwaway prices. These volumes, after dusting and cleaning are the pride and joy of my collection.

It was during another library sale that I saw the faded and frayed end of a book beckoning to me from under a pile of magazines. I was soon holding a much stained edition of a novel that I had been searching for, for years. I am now the proud owner of ‘The Return of Alfred’ and perhaps an elite member of a group consisting of four or five people, who have this book.

I consider myself lucky and grateful to my Maker that he has passed on the love of books to my granddaughters. I have now created shelves in my library, where they can keep their collection, for in my reckoning there can be no better friend on a cold and wet wintry evening, than a good book.