‘You Can Burn the Paper, But the Stories Live On’
February 12, 2015 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Pakistan's booksellers with wooden carts piled high: "Magazines and newspapers all have a standard price, but books—most of them old and, in some cases, quite rare—are sold by tola, a South Asian unit of measurement that works out to less than a pound, for as little as one dollar. A several-hundred-year-old copy of The Royal History of England, with hand-painted borders and diagrams, can sell for less than a set of Harry Potter books."
posted by viggorlijah (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
A book scouts dream
A book scouts nightmare
posted by clavdivs at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm just now playing tourist in Kolkata (Calcutta) and took a tour of the booksellers quarter on College Street. (Some photos here and here). Some 1500 bookseller stands, many just sidewalk tables but also a bunch of dark, cramped shops jammed full of books in ancient wooden locking cabinets. Definitely not nomadic. I didn't dig deep enough to see how books were priced or whether there were any rare manuscripts like described in this article about Karachi. I doubt it; the stores looked far too tidy for there to be treasures the seller was unaware of. The stalls were grouped by theme; medical books, computer books, Bengali literature, English literature, poetry, etc. It was quite impressive and also overwhelming and all felt a little outdated, like much of Kolkata. Worth the visit.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

He feels his work is a way to make taleem aam—knowledge and education—the norm, something he believes will alleviate the social struggle that surrounds him.

Good article. Some really great insights into how the love of books can take root anywhere, however inhospitable the environment. The anecdote of the customer looking for something to wrap his meat in came off as a little heavy-handed, but the descriptions of how Zayer makes his living and the cultural status of books in Pakistan were as fascinating as they were quotidian.

Was wondering where the brain-itch that tells me I've missed something big was coming from, until I backscrolled and hit:

According to a UNICEF report from 2012, the total adult illiteracy rate in Pakistan is 54.9 percent.

Wow. I've worked with a lot of folks from Pakistan in the last few years, but plainly my understanding of the nation needs some serious work.
posted by The Zeroth Law at 9:11 PM on February 12, 2015

When I lived in Karachi in the 70's it was awesome. A book walla would come by on a scooter with about 100 lbs of books on it. If you told him what you were looking for he would bring more of it next time. I was into comics and mad magazine at the time and the walla would show up with all those early 50's and 60's Mad pocket books and comics.
posted by boilermonster at 12:12 AM on February 13, 2015

A several-hundred-year-old copy of The Royal History of England, with hand-painted borders and diagrams, can sell for less than a set of Harry Potter books."

Honestly, I'm proud that this is the case in Pakistan. Eat it, colonialists.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:26 AM on February 13, 2015

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