Farehia Rehman

Islamabad - “None could be a person’s best friend as compared to friendship with books” is a famous adage followed by book lovers in old golden days.

There was a time when book lovers always remained in search of good books everywhere, they considered books as their best friends and thought nothing was as satisfying to their reading instinct as the habit of reading latest and interesting books. No doubt, reading is one of the most important ways of education and therefore the books are very powerful as they can be read by a large number of people and thus opinions reflected in the books spread.

But unfortunately, it has become a rare feature nowadays. Book reading habit is on decline because of rapidly integrated computer technology where anyone could access any time by spending a meagre amount and, that too, without leaving their homes.

“Two years back when I was unmarried, I bought a book titled ‘Face File’ for general knowledge. Still I have this, but could not read it because of time shortage,” these were the views of Ahtishman-ul-Haq, a 34-year-old employ of a private Islamabad based company.

Like him, most of the people cannot find time for reading; they return homes around six in the evening and most of them work for long hours whether they have their own business or doing a part time job for meeting their both ends meet.

Twin cities offered many places where readers can buy good books. Only in H-9, there are around five old book stalls organised under the banner of the Capital Development Authority (CDA). These stalls offer books of various sorts including literature and academic books for students, but it is witnessed that only students, who are preparing for their exams, visit these stalls frequently and ask for guess papers, keys or guide books from the bookstall vendors.

Shahaid Ali, an owner of a book shop located at Bhara Kahu, expressed same views saying: “After final exams I can get some profit when most of the students buy books for their news classes.

In my area people mostly are uneducated and hardly manage their daily expenses, and that’s why customers hardly demand books on literature or any other such subject.”

Still there are people who believe that there are a few things that awaken one’s imagination but these are very few in number who regularly purchase books on literature and other subjects of their interest.

Most of the book sellers have a website where readers can buy books online.

A man working at ‘Mr Books’ -– a book shop at Super Market Islamabad – said, “The number of customers has decreased as compared to past. No doubt all the new and trendy books are easily available on the internet, but still we are selling books of every kind daily to our regular readers. Mostly young people focus on English or Urdu novels, particularly girls purchase Urdu digests and magazines on regular basis.”

According to critics, the publishing industry in Pakistan is hampered by a low literacy rate (48 percent). Besides low literacy rate, the fundamental reason for decrease in book reading is inflation. Books are being sold on shops at expensive rates and that is why the number of book buyers is decreasing day by day as compared to the past when shops and bazaars remained full and busy with book lovers. Catering to the needs of books lovers, book stalls, particularly along roadsides, offer pirated old books of Oxford and other famous publishers at very cheap prices.

Associates with Town Management Authority (TMA) Rawalpindi, Adil often visits Saddar Bazaar, a prominent palace for all-time favourite makeshift old books bazaar being held on every Sunday along the footpaths near GPO Chowk.

According to him, the old book stalls have been catering to the needs of thousands of book lovers having meagre budget. He added“ In the past, even four or five years ago, when I was student of B.com, a crowd of people were in search of books around these stalls, but now I meet hardly one or two people while purchasing books.

No doubt decline in book reading culture is a bad sign for the development of a society, which needs prompt response by the concerned authorities to attend this crucial issue and revive culture of book reading by highlighting the importance of books.

Increase in online technology is one of the biggest reasons of the decline. The fact can be gagged from a study, carried out by the University of California at San Diego, which found out that the people in the US were consuming more words on an average now than in the 1980s. But this was mainly due to increase in online activities, including Facebook, Twitter and blogging. Pakistan has an internet penetration of about 10.6 percent (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.

—The writer is a freelance contributor.