Muhammad Nazir, 46, strikes you as a very busy man — his cell phone never stops ringing. He makes sure he takes each and every call, incidentally from his customers inquiring about the books of their choice.
For the uninitiated, Nazir runs an old bookstore in Dharampura. It’s a place that he set up with mere “six hundred rupees in my pocket,” in 1992. It was a humble, roadside stall back then. Today, he is a proud owner of two shops that deal in new as well as old books — “on almost every topic under the sun,” he claims.
“Mostly, I interact with my clients online,” he explains, adding that they are spread all over the country. “I search out the books and then courier them. The payments are made through banking transactions.”
Nazir has obviously come a long way. It is his vintage collection that he is most proud of — the old magazines, newspapers, stamps, coins, and even a radio set. You also find handwritten books that date back to four or five hundred years. These include Gulistan by Sheikh Saadi and Masnavi by Maulana Rumi. His shops also have rare editions of the Bible (I found a 1721 edition!).
Sundays are different. Nazir puts up a makeshift book stall at the Anarkali Chowk. This has been his routine since 1996.
“The old books bazaar in Anarkali starts right after the Fajr prayers every Sunday,” he reveals. “The customers browse through rows and rows of books on display, and pick out the ones they want.”
Over the years, Nazir has earned a loyal customer base, owing mainly to the variety available with him. Academics, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, police officers, judges, students etc all like to frequent the place. His sell-outs have largely been the books on history, sports, Islam, and Tibb. Besides, celebrated literary magazine Naqoosh’s special numbers on Ghalib, Iqbal, Mir and Manto have also sold well.
Nazir says that once in a while he also finds an autographed Manto book which he sells at a high price.
“The Holy Sinner, a coffee-table book by Sadequain, is also highly priced but it is much sought-after.
When quizzed, he says he doesn’t deal in old paintings but he likes to sell the painting books by great masters such as Sadequain and Abdul Rehman Chughtai. Amaal-e-Chughtai, a painting book by the great artist, is also supposed to have been a bestseller. “Once in a while you get such an extraordinary response from a book that he gets pleasantly surprised. He got hold of a few copies of the book Lahore Nama by Santosh Kumar which were all sold out overnight.”
Nazir Old Bookshop is home to many a book on Indian history, dating back to the early 19th and 20th centuries. These include A History of India by H.G Keene, an 1890 edition of a translation of Shakuntala by Kalidas, and A Catalogue of Paintings by S.N. Gupta that was printed in 1922.
Random collections of A.J. Toynbee, Will Durant, Edward Gibbon, and Phillip Hitti are also to be found.
There are old books on art, music, dance, philosophy, anthropology, history, Islam, India, and what not. Nazir shows me the incomplete but voluminous set of the Brille Encyclopedia of Islam whose price is said to be around Rs1 million.
The one issue the visitors face is the lack of cataloguing — there are no separate sections for topics, as books are just jumbled into the racks.
In future, Nazir plans to reorganise his entire collection so that his customers may easily find their choicest books. He also has loyal fans among collectors of old coins and stamps.
Nazir has obviously come a long way. He began small-time, with a roadside stall, and today he boasts two rented shops in the city which are still not big enough to store thousands of the books on all he topics.
He has also trained over a hundred people in the art of selling old books. Many of his pupils have set up their own little bookshops in the city.
In the end, Nazir bemoans the fact that people no longer have care for rare books; it’s only a few collectors who are interested in them.
At times he gets very unlikely customers. Once, two guys came to his shop. They bought huge law books. “I was intrigued. So I prompted them; they said they had no care for what the books were about, they only needed to use these as props for film shoot.”