Lahore’s First Punjabi Bookstore Deemed Shut

Kitab Trinjan (KT), the first dedicated shop of Punjabi books in Lahore, is due to close end of this month.

Kitab Trinjan was established in 1997 to encourage the publishing and dissemination of Shahmukhi Punjabi literature in a situation where Punjabi books were shunned away by the ‘regular’ bookshops that were happy instead to sell the more ‘lucrative/prestigious’ Urdu and English books. With regard to the privilege enjoyed by English and Urdu at the regular book shops, however, the situation in 2009 remains more or less the same.

In the last 12 years, thanks to the continuous and ongoing volunteer work of Zubair Ahmed Jan, Kitab Trinjan has sold more than 1,200,000 (12 Lakh) Punjabi books; bought 7,71,635 books from other publishers; published works created by modern Punjabi writers under various imprints; but most of all, has built a cultural community unique to itself. This community is built by extending regular interaction, support and contribution to literary communities of the Punjab, Panjab and the Diaspora. Zubair’s ongoing support to Sangat Shah Hussain in Lahore, to the online Punjabi news and cultural digest, to the largest online archive of Punjabi Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi literature Apnaorg, to the only Punjabi literary quarterly magazine that prints simultaneously in Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi Temahi Sanjh, for example, has strengthened the respective organizations and cultural communities.

I had the opportunity to visit Kitab Trinjan in its very first year when Activist Zafaryab Ahmed told me in Islamabad about it, and later introduced me to Author Zubair Ahmed who was instrumental in establishing, and then managing it. Later, i went to the shop, a 1.4-roomed top floor of a depleted inner city building in Lahore, though inside, it was the most inspiring place to be. In fact, that was the first time that i had actually seen hundreds of Shahmukhi Punjabi titles in one place. It created a feeling of wonderment where i was enchanted also by the fact that the development of Punjabi literature was not in the hands of policymakers of Pakistan but us, the writers and readers of Punjabi.

Here is a 1998 photo of Kitab Trinjan from the outside, taken by Amarjit Chandan, a long time supporter of KT.

Kitab Trinjan. Lahore..1999. Pic Amarjit Chandan(2)

Detail, Kitab Trinjan by Amarjit Chandan, 1998

In 2006 and 2007, i found Kitab Trinjan in a newer, bigger and brighter place. It was doubtless the most well-organized and well-managed book shop of the three Punjabi book sellers on and around Mozang Chowk since Zubair had help from KT’s only paid worker, Ghulam Haider who worked as a full time sales associate.

The following are the reasons given for the closure of Kitab Trinjan: That there were no Punjabi book stores in 1997 and now there are two more that are operating as full time businesses; That there is duplication of services between Suchet Kitab Ghar and Kitab Trinjan; That KT is limited by its voluntary nature; and, that Zubair Ahmad, the Volunteer Manager of KT, wants to focus on his creative work.

The above reasons do not jell with me as they defy all logic; and in that, it seems that this decision is taken for the benefit of less than half a dozen people instead of the benefit of even those 6,896,000 Punjabis who were living in the city of Lahore just after Kitab Trinjan first opened its doors. In the 1998 Census, the total population of Lahore was counted as 6.8 Million, however, later estimates indicate that the population of Lahore was 10 million in 2006.

My problem is as follows:
The first reason encourages us to believe, in defiance of all demographic considerations, that perhaps there are no Punjabi speakers in the additional 3.2 Million people that were counted as living in Lahore in 2006; that may be there is no increase in the city population since 2006; or if the population increased it did no sprout any new buyers of Punjabi books; that there are no new students of Punjabi language; and, certainly no new lovers of Punjabi literature. Else, the simple fact of population increase would have been enough to justify the continued existence of, at least, these three Punjabi book stores. In other words, such reasoning suggests that 3 BOOK STORES are too many for 6 to 8 MILLION Punjabi speakers of Lahore.

The second reason perpetuates confusion as it meddles with the roles of Suchet Kitab Ghar a Publisher of books and magazines who operates as a distributor/retailer to support its primary role as a Publisher; and Kitab Trinjan, a Bookseller/Distributor who has published books only on occasion.

The third and the fourth reasons are issues that can easily be resolved by Zubair himself if given the chance. Having an outlet for Punjabi books at his home in one of the suburbs of Lahore will eliminate the daily hardship, and leave more time for creative work.

I also do not share the ‘expatriate’s politically correct’ statement forwarded by my friend and another long time supporter of KT, Ijaz Syed, in his response to the closure of Lahore’s first Punjabi book shop.
‘My heartiest felicitations to the Central Committee members for taking this timely decision! Kitab Trinjan played its historical pioneering role in the publication and distribution of punjabi books at a time when this service was most needed. In my view, along with other Central Committee friends, a lot of credit for maintaining and managing Kitab Trinjan for these twelve long years rightly goes to Zubair Jan. Of course, none of this would have happened without Najam Sahab‘s benevolent presence.’

In accordance with the ‘enlightened expatriate’s politically correct guide’, a non-critical acceptance and appreciation of this decision has duly been tendered by Ijaz, else, why would he call it a ‘timely decision’? Is it really the requirement of this time to close one of the three (progressive) Punjabi book centers in Lahore?
I think it’s time to relocate this one, and open the fourth.
Tell you why.
When Kitab Trinjan was selling an average of 1 lakh books per year, Suchet Kitab Ghar and Sanjh Publications were also registering sales, I am willing to bet on it! So, if in the last 12 years, all three have shown an increase in sales, i don’t see why Kitab Trinjan needs to shut. Also, if the establishment of a sales/distribution center by Suchet Kitab Ghar (and Sanjh) did not have a negative impact on Kitab Trinjan, why now, Kitab Trinjan needs to be eliminated in the interest of one or both?

Maqsood Saqib of Pancham/Suchet and Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications have, for different reasons, earned my un-wavering respect and love as people and professionals; and, i fully support the work of both. The same, may be more so, is true for Zubair Ahmad of Kitab Trinjan.

In other words, Bawa Jees te Bawi Jees, please do not be presenting Lahore in such narrow terms. The City and its people need and deserve all three of these wonderful spaces to develop Punjabi literature; and still, a few more. Not less!

Fauzia Rafique

Contact Uddari

4 comments on “Lahore’s First Punjabi Bookstore Deemed Shut

  1. Roop Dhillon says:

    During a literary meet I once attended, someone popped up this rather uneasy question in an equally unexpected manner: What is it that ails the Punjabi literature?

    All kinds of plausible and implausible answers were put forth, ranging from the lack of government support to the apathy of readers. If someone spoke passionately about the need to promote our literary culture through a network of libraries, others felt it necessary to promote, albeit aggressively, Punjabi language in states other than Punjab.

    Almost everyone agreed that the problem lay with the external, motivating factors. Not even a single speaker thought it worthwhile to look inwards and suggest how far our personal and cultural attitudes were responsible for whatever was found wanting.

    Though the literary discussion ended inconclusively, as most of these discussions often do, I came back wondering if it wasn’t necessary for us to do some introspection and see how and in what different ways we were responsible for whatever had presumably gone wrong.

    This is what prompted me to look through the haze of forgotten memories, and as I did so, a series of incidents came leaping back. Somehow I felt, that the answers lay hidden somewhere in these personal anecdotes. Once I had a chance encounter with a bright-looking young man from the department of Punjabi, who presented me with a strange request. He was looking for a portrait of Shakespeare and wanted my help in procuring one. I asked him, ‘Whatever do you want Shakespeare’s portrait for?’ He said, ‘Sir, I believe he was the greatest dramatist we have ever had. I admire him a great deal. I want to get his picture framed and put it up in my room.’ Now this had me completely flummoxed. After years of teaching Shakespeare, I felt I had finally come across a genuine Shakespeare lover. I said, ‘This is interesting. So you must have read most of his plays?’ Without so much as a blink, he shot back, ‘No Sir, I haven’t read any. But I have heard a great deal about him.’

    Despite my familiarity with this oft-orchestrated Indian habit of icon-making and idolization, I somehow felt rather uneasy about the excessiveness of this Punjabi response. I wondered if this is the way we Punjabis often form our impression(s) about authors, our own or those of the other languages and cultures? Merely on the basis of what we hear rather than what we read or discover?

    What disturbed me the most was that despite being a student of Punjabi literature he wasn’t interested much in idolizing one of his own, but someone as remote and distant as Shakespeare, someone he hadn’t read, only heard of.

    This would have continued to mystify me, had I not met one of my colleagues, a few days later. After meeting him I began to understand that the idolization of a young fellow was not an aberration or an exception, but rather a product of a peculiar mind-set, an outcome of a certain way in which we continue to perceive ourselves in relation to the Europeans in general and the British in particular, their literature, history and culture. In course of an absolutely innocuous conversation, this colleague of mine, who incidentally teaches Punjabi, nearly had me zapped when he said, ‘Oh! Your situation is different. After all, you teach English literature (emphasis not mine).’

    More than the mixture of awe and envy in his words, it was this ideological mask of self-inferiorization that unnerved me a great deal. It took me quite some time to recover from the shock and gather my wits. Finally when I had, I said, ‘Why do you say that? You should be proud that you teach your own language/literature. I feel like a condemned soul who is forever enslaved to teach someone else’s.’ The conversation ended on this note, but the words of my colleague had continued to haunt me for a long time.

    Though he had dedicated several ‘precious’ decades of his life to the teaching of Punjabi literature, my ‘friend’ hadn’t really developed genuine pride in what he did. Somewhere he still nursed a secret envy for his counterparts who taught English Literature. Was it not a symptom or an expression of self-inferiorization? Was it not the outcome of an ideology that often compelled us to indulge in inferiorization of our own language(s) and culture(s) at the cost of valorizing someone else’s?

    Once while attending a parent-teacher meeting, I was shocked when the teacher complained to one of the parents of a six-year-old, saying, ‘I always tell him to speak English, at least in my class, but he doesn’t listen. He has this ‘bad habit’ of using Punjabi expressions in between. You must check him.’ Do you recall having been subjected to this or having witnessed such a scene ever? Of course, all this is real, not just a figment of some crooked imagination.

    Now, had it been a matter of a few isolated individuals or their flights of fancy, one may not have really bothered much. But unfortunately, it has percolated so deep down to our institutional practices that it’s actually worrisome.

    While attending a seminar on Punjabi literature, I was aghast to learn how widespread and endemic the tendency among the scholars and academics of Punjabi was, to flaunt their knowledge of the critical theories, tools and procedures churned out by the Western academy. With a genuine tinge of pride in his tone, one of the academics boasted, ‘In less than a year, every new book or theory that the West produces is made available to the Punjabi readers through translation.’

    But when I asked him about the reverse trend, he wasn’t too sure. It appears that our imports from other languages/cultures in terms of the translated literature, literary conventions and critical theories far exceed exports of our own literature and literary traditions to others. (Elementary economics tells us that exports must exceed the imports if the balance of payments is to remain favourable).

    A well-known publisher of Punjabi literature once told me in strict confidence, ‘I’ve bought the rights to publish all the works of Paulo Coelho in Punjabi.’ This is admirable, but my point is different.

    While too many people are worrying about how the Punjabi reader is to be acquainted with the best there is in world literature, not many seem to bother about how our best could also be made available outside the frontiers of our state.

    Put simply, it’s a classic case of adverse balance of payments in purely cultural, if not economic, terms. Won’t it, then, create conditions where our own cultural depletion or impoverishment could become threateningly real?

    The height of celebrating our writers is that we eulogize Shiv Batalvi as the Keats of Punjab, and Mohan Bhandari as the Chekhov of the Punjabi short story.

    By thus depriving our authors or their works of cultural specificities, we, willy-nilly, render them nameless or ‘identity-less.’ Of course, we continue to wear and flaunt our masks of conquest, which, whether we realize or not, are our masks of self-defeat, too.

    Now finally, the clinching question. Will this mind-set, this state of affairs, this cultural self-hatred ever change?

    Yes, it just might. Only if we are prepared to change three things. One, to genuinely improve our reading habits. Two, to develop natural pride in our language/literature and increase our export surplus. Three, to stop looking at our language, literature, writers and literary traditions through tinted Ray-Ban glasses minted elsewhere.


    Rana Nayar is Professor & Chairperson, Department of English, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He is a well-known translator, and has nine works of translation to his credit.


  2. Roop Dhillon says:

    That’s a real shame. Shame on Punjabis for letting it down


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