The 29th International Book Fair was not only a book fair, it was also a sort of a festival that allowed families to come together and enjoy themselves. Book stalls were part of the event but that was not the only thing about it.
Children could be seen running from here to there, getting their faces painted and dancing to the music. Adults and children also tried their hand at singing, trying to please the crowds present at the Expo Centre, the venue for the fair.
Previously known as Lahore Book Fair, the project was designed and helmed by M. Iqbal Cheema, back in 1985. Talking exclusively to TNS, Cheema said, “The purpose [behind holding the event] was to promote reading habits in Pakistan. Earlier, not a lot of people were fond of reading and the market for books was limited and spaces were not available to arrange a grand exhibition.”
He said that he took up the issue with a lot of government officials at that time but was met with resistance. He was told that no one cares about books and that such an event would have no scope in Pakistan.
There aren’t many events happening these days that allow parents and children to spend time together and enjoy, the book fair seemed to change that. The idea behind arranging such a grand event was to promote interest in reading. However, books were not the only thing being sold or bought at the book fair. There were various stalls that were selling electronic goods and even kitchen supplies. Sarah Malik, a book enthusiast, commented, “The books are not that great, there is limited variety and the books available are either for children or adults. But I chanced on some great ‘samosa moulds,’ three for just Rs150, so all is not lost.”
Eventually, the book fair saw more than 250 book stalls, put up not only by Pakistani publishers but also those from abroad. The book fair went on for five days, the vendors were very happy on the weekend as they said that their sales had been the highest then. Sellers, mostly of children books, seemed disappointed by the whole turnout. They said that they had not been able to sell much this year. M. Rashid Butt of Caravan Book House said, “We have been participating [in the book fair] for the past 15 years now, and this year was the least profitable for us.”
The reason, he quoted, was lack of trips made by the schools. “School children would come in groups and invest in books but due to security reasons none of the schools participated this year.”
There were those vendors who were extremely satisfied. Bilal Zubair of Multi-line Books, for instance, was of the view that “sales have been getting better every year. We’ve been a part of this event since its conception and this year we are offering 15-50% off on our books.”
It was interesting to see that the crowd was quite big at the event and the children seemed to be having the most fun. Ayesha Khalid, a young woman who had been visiting the fair with her nieces said, “The crowd here is overwhelming and the kids are enjoying themselves. I just saw some street kids enjoying the free books and it was quite pleasant. Religion, Philosophy and Science sections are a favourite among the customers and that is quite out of the ordinary.
“The event has been designed in a way that it appeals to the kids also,” she said. “My nieces have helped themselves to various story and colouring books.”
Khalid also mentioned that Readings was offering reasonably priced books at the fair.
A rather interesting stall at the book fair was the ‘Siddiqui Rare and Antique Books.’ It was filled with (seemingly) battered books, some really nice art pieces, and autographed books that is just what the collectors would care for.
According to the owner of the bookshop, M. Haroon Siddiqui, “Sales have been good for me this year. But the main reason I’ve been putting up a stall [at the fair] is to publicise my business.”
When asked as to which was the most expensive book he possessed, Siddiqui smiled and pointed to an old set of four books. “The most expensive ought to be ‘Serindia’. It has 4 volumes. If you pick it up from the market, you’ll get it for Rs 7 million but we are offering it for Rs 5 million.”
Majority of the people were interested in buying books related to general knowledge or guides for CSS. As M. Iqbal Cheema said, “The crowds keep getting bigger and there aren’t just individual buyers who come to these book fairs but also institutional clients who find good deals here in order to stock their libraries. Majority of our buyers are young people and that is quite wonderful to see.”