One of the biggest book fairs in the world, Frankfurter Buchmesse attracts publishers and literary talents from across the world. This year, it was held from October 11-15, with France being the guest of honour. It was a befitting tribute in view of the UNESCO win that followed on October 13 2017 – France’s Audrey Azoulay was voted as the UNESCO chief.
I attended the last two days of the fair, as one of my clients was participating at the event (I am a PR ninja, fyi). My itinerary was rather suffocating during the day, and left me little time to take leisure walks around to soak in the vast talent and literature at display. Out of habit, I sought out my own and checked online if Pakistan is participating. I was confident that it wasn’t, but asking Mr. Google doesn’t hurt.
To my utter surprise, Pakistan had not one but two stands! One of them was in Hall 5, where I was based for the weekend, and the other one was in Hall 4 – in the academic section.
My neighbouring Pakistani stand was by Sang-e-Meel Publications. I had never heard of them but my exposure to Pakistani literature and publishing is rather pitiful. After an exhausting day, I went to check out the stand and collection on my way out, only to find the stand devoid of human presence. This gave me a chance to look through the books without watchful eyes following me. Score!
I instantly fell in love with a book titled Portrait of Sindh by Ihsan H. Nadiem, checked out a few more on display towards the entrance and then gave up. My feet were killing, my stomach was growling with hunger (food at the messe is limited and tasteless), and I had one more day at the fair. I resolved to return the next day, took a compulsory picture and left.
On the last day of the fair, I did my due diligence at my client’s stand, and then went out to check out Sang-e-Meel’s stand again. This is when I met Ayyaz Ahmed, a surprisingly young man (I was expecting a 58-year old man), with a passion for books and amicable personality.
I self-invited myself for a chat with him over chai, to educate myself about the publishing industry in Pakistan and how does this particular house function. I learnt that stocking Urdu literature is considered a risk by most small-to-medium sized bookstores in Pakistan. Also, most people in Pakistan are at a transient place, where they have been distanced from Urdu literature (possibly due to lack of exposure) and haven’t quiet mastered the English language enough to fully comprehend and appreciate English literature either.
Ayyaz mentioned that Sang-e-Meel was at the fair after about 10 years. The company, which was founded by his grandfather over 50 years ago, was participating this year through Frankfurter Buchmesse’s invitation program. He, along with a few other participants, arrived to Frankfurt 5 days before the fair opened, to attend seminars, workshops and visit literary landmarks around the city.
The collection he had brought along was apt for some of the most esteemed libraries around the world. One section comprised of beautifully encased coffee table books, with content ranging from provincial encyclopaedias (such as Portrait of Sindh) to compilations of calligraphic maestro from the country.
Then there was a selection of novels and poetry compilations, which reached out to my romantic side with unprecedented zeal. If you follow my rather inactive, mostly elevator-selfie-laden Instagram, you might remember that I was attempting to improve my Urdu writing and speaking fluency recently. And I love poetry – even if I don’t understand it in entirety sometimes. Ayyaz suggested Majmua-i-Kalaam by Zehra Nigah, and it was exactly what I needed.
He also mentioned that Sang-e-Meel has a website, which allows people to shop from all around the world. Yes, they ship worldwide! I found it incredible, especially because I have often heard expats wish for it. Now, whether you are in the Emirates or land of CurryWurst, you can enjoy Urdu literature.
Dear reader, publishing is suffering around the world. More publishing houses are closing year after year, due to lack of support from sponsors and readers alike. The situation is even more dire in Pakistan. You and I need to step up, support local publishing houses in Pakistan and buy Urdu literature as often as possible. You can start now, by visiting ParhLikh or Sang e Meel Publications online.
P.S. I am currently reading Majmua-i-Kalaam by Zehra Nigah, and can’t recommend it enough. You can buy it online from here if you like poetry: https://parhlikh.com/product/majmua-e-kalaam/