KARACHI: There you go again. Another indicator of where society is headed. Nowhere!

How many old book shops have closed down in the city in the last two decades? Many. These days the only readily available books could be found either in the glitzy stores at swanky shopping malls or in shops owned by big publishing houses. Nothing wrong with that, they also have their positive role to play. But their exorbitant prices of books keep the low-income groups (which constitute the bulk of this country) away from them.

This is where markets like Sunday bazaars and other informal setups, where old books could be bought at cheap-as-chips prices, had assumed great importance. But if the closing down of the Defence Sunday Bazaar was a clue to what was about to happen to such markets, it’s all soon going to be doom and gloom for book lovers.

A few weeks back, during what was supposed to be an anti-encroachment drive, the city authorities removed the old book bazaar in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, opposite Masjid Baitul Mukarram. It was set up on an open piece of land between two blocks of buildings. There were no proper shops, as it were, but most of the booksellers stacked their books on pushcarts, which were easier to move around.

On Saturday evening at a book launch this writer was told by a voracious book reader that the Gulshan-i-Iqbal bazaar had been removed. On Sunday, sadly, a visit to the area endorsed his claim. The pushcarts were there, but the books were all bundled up, covered in plastic sheets. There were no vendors, except one who for some reason had not closed shop. When asked why others were not there, he said they were told to go away by the authorities because they wanted cleaner pavements. However, he was hopeful, in a churlish way though, that they would return in a couple of weeks.

Encroachments should be discouraged because they harm the environment. But bookstalls? The culture or habit of reading books is the last thing that should be discouraged in this country. We are already facing a situation where society is being pushed into intellectual bankruptcy. The booksellers in Gulshan-i-Iqbal could have been asked to move back a bit or reposition themselves, and not removed.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2015