There are not many bookshops in Kashmir, though reading culture has seen surge for last some years. People of all age groups are getting attracted towards books, be it—fiction or non-fiction. Leaving the city aside rural areas are far away from book reading habits only due to lack of exposure, mostly among youth.
The city centre, Lal Chowk, has got many new bookshops in the last two years. Whether it is politics, literature, fiction or business studies, reading culture in valley has paved its way through people’s hearts and minds.
According to a local bookshop owner, since 90s there has been an increase of over fifty percent in readership. “Books that are highly in demand are of English literature, Islamic literature and most importantly the children books,” he says.
City is seen dotted also with several ‘second hand’ book vendors, mostly on Sundays. They are spread throughout the whole city centre, near Regal Chowk, Polo Ground, Magarmal Crossing, SP College, and in several other areas of civil lines. Passers-by would notice the vendors and stop to check out the books. Some end up buying and gradually, a few of them became regulars. Such book vendors in the city have variety – from sociology, medical, engineering, anthropology, philosophy to fiction, current affairs, children literature.
Many readers complain they don’t have proper access to books and new launches also. A reader Saima Bashir who is collecting books to have her own small library at home says despite being in a conflict area, people don’t prefer conflict books.
“No doubt there are not many bookshops but still we can buy books from this small number of bookshops and vendors that are in city,” she says.
As the market for books in valley has increased, the bookshop owners are plumping huge money in providing latest books and bestsellers to readers. However, Valley does not have any Book fairs, second-hand book markets, book launches, and literary events, which play a major role in building the environment for book reading.
Books which are available in city bookshops usually cost 200 to 1,000 rupees. The major authors who are mostly read in valley are, Arundhati Roy, Aga Shahid Ali, Paulo Coelo, Fida Mohammad Hasnain, Sidney Sheldon, Chetan Bhagat, Orphan Pamuk, and three Kashmiri authors Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed and Siddhartha Gigoo.
Imtiyaz Ahmad, Manager, Password bookshop says they receive customers who ask for both fiction and non-fiction books. “We run an open bookshop; books are displayed openly in rows on the basis of different fields of life. Readers can search easily which book they like to buy,” he told The Kashmir Walla.
We keep, he says, “Books regarding anything,” adding further, “mostly readers prefer non-fiction books of any author. “We receive hundreds of readers who visit our book gallery every week. Book reviews published in newspapers or magazines play a vital role in increasing the sales and makes people desirous towards reading books,” he says.
An octogenarian, Sheikh Rehmat Ullah who had a Kashmir art showroom at Lambert Lane, Lal Chowk says Valley had only some of the bookshops earlier as Jai Ram Das Gyan Chand at Maharaja Bazaar, Ghulam Muhammad at Zaina Kadal and Ali Muhammad Sons who did lot for the book culture in valley.
Most of the books sold in valley are imported from the markets of Delhi and Mumbai. A local bookshop owner says a minimum investment of 10 lakh rupees is required for establishing a good quality bookshop. “At least it takes 10 years to establish a good bookshop, and in Kashmir, expensive books are not sold much,” he says.
Reading newspapers, magazines, journals, takes youth towards books. Students are the best readers who spent their spare time in libraries at colleges and universities. Internet has also increased the desire of reading in youth; browsing net to search for books is among their daily activities.
The annual turnover of book business is estimated at less than 25 lakh rupees per annum in valley. Sheikh Ajaz, owner Gulshan Books says that the reading culture has still to go very far away. “The bookshops cannot do anything until and unless a person does not develop a habit of reading in them,” he opines.
Apart from bookshops, the libraries of valley have not updated their book accounts for years even they don’t have proper records of books available.
In past, there were only two libraries Ranbir Library in Jammu and Pratap Library in Srinagar. Currently, even out of the total 77 libraries present in the Valley, only the Central Library and the SPS Library of the Department of Libraries have got the internet facility, while all other public libraries throughout the Valley are without the facility.
Noted author and professor, Fida Muhammad Hasnain says before 1947, here all Muslims were uneducated due to Dogra rule. “Muslims were forced to do farming and artisan works. But later in 1926 Muslims started education. Christian Missionary Schools were established by foreign missionaries. However, Muslim Ulema’s argued these schools are here to convert people to Christianity,” he told The Kashmir Walla.
Underlining the role of Mirwaiz Rasool Shah he says Mirwaiz established the Anjuman Nusratul Islam Trust and Islamia Schools under it. These schools came as refuge to Muslims of valley to seek education. Though it surprises Hasnain that the books which he read at graduate level today students read them at school level.