Alexander Pushkin wrote about St Petersburg: Gorgeous city, poor city/ Thralldoms spirit, wondrous fair/ Greenish pale the vault of heaven,/ Boredom, cold and granite there----/ Even so, I miss you slightly,/ Just because it is there sometimes/ That a tiny foot trips lightly/ And a golden ringlet shines. Karachi too combines palaces with hovels, and rags with riches. And it could do with some of the cold of which the Russian poet complains. It, nevertheless, attempts to develop culture. Unfortunately, mushairas are not frequent now. But the theatre, which had almost died following independence, has slowly revived, done so on a new basis. Laila-Majnoon has ceded place to new dramatists. Music is vigorous. But the most wonderful development has been the evolution of the old-book collections on the dusty pavements into the Sunday Book Bazar on the green lawns of the Frere Hall. Having been banished, eight years before, to all sorts of places, it returned to its old habitat last month, though its original ambiance is not fully restored. The professors, the writers and intellectuals, those ordinary persons who like to read, are not yet seen there in previous numbers. But the number of booksellers has increased and the books now seem to cover more subjects than before. There are also proportionately more new books, especially of Urdu. A welcome addition is that of Sindhi books, though the few French books, which used to cover a corner of one of the stalls, are not there anymore. Neither is the bookseller, who always had a large collection of classical Persian literature. It is said that a part of the consular section of the US Embassy in Moscow once moved into a high building near the Kremlin wall so that the US officials could see into the Kremlin. Stalin, looking out of the window of his office, remarked that any American official could pick up a rifle and kill the Soviet leaders. The consulate was chased out of the building. Something similar appears to have happened to our bazar. Some country chose to build its consulate on a plot next to Frere Hall, its windows overlooking the lawns. And, this time, it was to someone in the consulate it occurred that anyone could come into the bazar with a bazooka or a grenade mounted on a rocket and shoot into the consulates windows. And the bazar was expelled from its lawns. The city administration, feeling guilty about it but unable to prevent the removal of the bazar from its lawns, tried to create as good a substitute as possible, in fact, trying to create the impression of an improvement over the previous arrangements. A whole stretch of the street by the Art Council was reserved every Sunday for the bazar and there were innovations in the shape of a chai-khana and the stalls selling cassettes, curios etc. It drew visitors, but they still sighed for the old place. Then the matter probably fell into the hands of some savage. The bazar was shifted to the dirtiest lane in the Saddar, the books lying on the pavement by the overflowing drains. The Art Council took pity on it and gave it refuge. One could see in its yard, every Sunday, five or six tables with books on them, but no jostling crowd. It is a pleasure to see the bazar back where it should always have stayed. The shamianas are there. So is the breeze from the Arabian Sea, pleasant in every season. The tables are covered with books, new and old and ranging from serious subjects like a history of property to detective novels, from works of philosophy to religious polemics. I was discussing with a bookseller Galbraiths tendency to cover disparate subjects under the rubric of economics which sometimes gave the impression of the stream of consciousness, and he promptly offered me a very old copy of Joyces A Portrait of the Artist---. Actually, I had been looking for it as I wanted to write something about that genre which never caught on in Urdu. On another stall, I noticed the last volume of Tony Cliffs Lenin. At a time when we are incessantly assured loudly that Marxism and all that is kaput, the tenacity of the Trotskyists cannot but be admired. On an Urdu stall was a new edition of Bedis short stories next to a book on sorcery. One sparse stall exhibited the English translation of the memoires of Malika Oufkir. Her father was close to King Hassan and committed every imaginable atrocity, before he was killed on the kings orders and his children incarcerated. Do we sympathise with the children in this case? The old crowd is drifting back to the Frere Hall. I fell into a discussion with a person whom I did not know at all, on whether there should be a chai-khana in the bazar. The problem is that it may acquire an independent existence, attracting people who may not have come in search of old books. There used to be stone- and clay-tablets. Then came the papyrus. The invention of paper and printing wrought a revolution. Will the computer screen make the printed book a curiosity like the Sumerian tablets today? Why not? But the human sentiment will always be there. Every student will have his laptop. But the teenager will still turn to the girl next to him to ask if she would meet him in the park in the evening. n The writer is a former Ambassador.