Since the 1970s, ‘old bookshops’ have lent character to Pakistan’s capital. But as the city’s economy surges, how long can they survive?
Nadeem Ahmad Siddiqui is holding court with a group of friends and regulars at his Islamabad bookshop, Jumbo. The jovial chatter and tea drinking is broken up every so often by a customer seeking Siddiqui’s help. One child is gently admonished to find something more stimulating to read, while a question about medical textbooks from a mother and daughter soon turns into an animated discussion about India-Pakistan relations.
Tucked away in the corner of a busy commercial sector, unassuming Jumbo Books has iconic status among Islamabad’s “old bookshops”, as secondhand book stores are known here. Once the nondescript doorway is located among the swanky new restaurants and fashion boutiques of Pakistan’s capital, the visitor takes a staircase down to a concrete basement. Inside are shelves piled high with rare antique books, philosophical tomes and contemporary literature.