Monday, October 19, 2009

Books Fight Back: Islamabad Bibliophiles Flock to rae Books Fair Despite Taliban Violence

Islamabad at night
The Taliban attack on Rawalpindi shied large crowds from a rare book exibition-fair at Islamabad’s Nomad Center and Gallery the weekend of October 10-11, 2009 but failed to dampen the spirits of the city’s bibliophiles, who relished the feast.

This was, perhaps, a strong signal, prior to the Pakistani army's recent major offensive against the Taliban, that Pakistani society, in its own offensive action, is pushing back against the forces of regression and ignorance. The Nomad Center and Gallery is at the cultural forefront.

Displaying a collection of rare and contemporary books on art, literature, culture, religion and social issues, the exhibition-fair provided Islamabad’s book lovers with a chance to browse 3000 books, transcripts and manuscripts on display and offered for sale.

The fair featured a wide range of books ranging from technical and scientific manuals to volumes on history, religion, and the arts. Of particular interest were the books and educational materials, in Urdu and English, for children; children’s literature and texts are, alas, painfully neglected in the Pakistani school system which, on balance, is pitiful. Schoolchildren, moreover, are being killed in suicide attacks, most recently in Lahore last week.

The fair was formally inauurated by Syed Shahzad Ali and Mazhar Ali, two brothers who own Hero Books, established by their father Syed Ghulam Ali Hero at the famous Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore, in 1954.

One of the rare books that attracted viewers was a copy of Bostan-e-Saadi (The Fruit Orchard, the first book of poetry by the Persian poet, Saadi) and Gulistan-e-Saadi (The Rose Garden) published in 1257 and 1258 C.E. respectively, for which the seller asked Rs 400,000 ($4819). (Presumably first printed editions bound together, but it is unclear).

Saadi in His Rose Garden, from an early 17th century manuscript

A signed copy of Altaf Hussain’s (1837-1914) Musaddas e-Madd o-Jazr e-Islam (An Elegiac Poem on the Ebb and Tide of Islam), written under his poetic pseudonym Hali ("The Contemporary") had a price tag of Rs 45,000 ($542). The Musaddas, or Musaddas-e-Hali, as it is often known, was published in 1879 to critical acclaim, and heralded the modern age of Urdu poetry,

An English translation of Shah Shams Tabrez’s works was also offered at Rs 25,000 ($301).

A copy of A.J. Arberry’s Religion in the Middle East, published in 1969 by the Cambridge University, was offered for Rs 18,000 ($217).

A battered copy of Fatuhat Sham, written by Syed Inayet Hussain Saharanpuri, published by Nawal Kishore in British India, sold for Rs 45,000 ($542). I have thus far been unable to discover anything about this book.

A complete volume of Naqoosh’s Rasool Number, compiled by the influential magazine's late publisher and editor, Javed Tufail; three volumes of Catalogue of Indian Coins, edited by E.J. Ripon in 1967; and a wide range of books printed in 1950s and 1960s also attracted foreign visitors.

Interviewed by the Daily Times of Pakistan, Shehzad Ali said this was the first time that he had exhibited his rare books in the nation's capital. “So far a lot of customers visited and purchased rare books and as the day progressed, I am hoping for more to come. Although, today’s (Saturday) attack at GHQ in Rawalpindi restricted my customers to visit this place,” he said.

Pakistan has a lively book trade, with many book shops in the larger urban regions. Bibliophiles need not go far or spend much to obtain the books they want because every Sunday, a large bazaar of old and new books is organised on the footpaths of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Full story about the exhibition-book fair in Islamabad at the Daily Times of Pakistan.

Nomad Center & Art Gallery, # 383, Eighth Avenue, F-8/3, Islamabad.Tel: 051 – 2262502.

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