nirvana for readers
In Bangladesh, Nilkhet is almost perfectly synonymous to books. Be it a novel, a black-and-white era magazine, a medical textbook anything in print- it can be found in Nilkhet. Clusters of small tin-shed stalls that cover 3000 square feet of the space beside Balaka cinema hall, facing the Dhaka New Market, lure in all sorts of people. With their customers ranging from housewives to university students, this is the paradise for readers.
The Market has expanded arbitrarily in so many directions since its inception that even the most frequent of visitors tend to lose their path. The stalls huddle together, with only narrow paths snaking through them. Most (rather, all) the shops are tightly packed with books and magazines. Normally the scene would have been asphyxiating, but surprisingly, each stall is comfy, with the familiar scent of old books hovering in the air. The vendors are friendly people and very skilled at the trade indeed.
Salam Kadir, a stall owner specializing in used text books and exam question papers, was just enjoying a moment of calm after a busy afternoon, when he agreed to share with us his views. He has been selling at this very spot for the last twenty-three years, and has inherited the shop from his father. The Market came into being some time just after the Independence. As many other sellers contributed their own, it became clear that initially there were three or four stalls that started out with many of the books stolen during the war, primarily from bookstores and libraries all over the City. Soon other vendors realized profit and moved in.
Nilkhet is largely famous for the astonishing variety of books it offers. Just name what you want, they have it. The usual collection of novels aside, they also hold books that are extremely rare. Recently, I even managed to unearth Salman Rushdie's infamous "Satanic Verses" and Anita Brookner's "Hotel du Lac". The same is the case for magazines and comic books. The stalls proudly display their past issues of 'Life', 'Time', 'Reader's Digest', 'Vanity Fair' and 'Rolling Stones' amongst countless others.
Many stalls also hold local and foreign textbooks for school, college and university students. Anika, a student of Scholastica, said she buys all her books and question papers from here. "It is so cheap! Bookstores in Gulshan and Banani are quite expensive, and are frequently out of stock. Here, I know I'll get whatever I need."
In addition, there are TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, MBA and many spoken English books. There are also books that cater to the every possible niche- cooking, architecture, sports, fiction, encyclopedias, etc.
Over the years Nilkhet has diversified into shops for photocopy, scanning and spiral binding. The market is also known for Xeroxed books. They have stocks of almost every textbook and fiction in the photocopied version. Astoundingly, 70 per cent of all the books in Nilkhet are photocopied. Although this is in violation of copyrights, it nevertheless does make available otherwise expensive books at lower prices.
Apart from the variety, an added benefit is the price. In one sentence, the books are unbelievably affordable! Many fictions are available within the Tk. 20 to Tk. 100 range that bear exorbitant price tags elsewhere. Most items can be yours at a third or a quarter price. With the cost of books spiralling upward exponentially -mainly the imported ones- Nilkhet provides a relief for the middle-income group and students on a tight budget.
There are also some interesting aspects of the Market and its dealings that are unique to Nilkhet itself. For instance, you can also sell your used books there- and even resell the ones you have just bought from one of the stall a few days back.
This however- mind you- involves a lot of bargaining. The Nilkhet vendors have quite mastered the art, and it would be time for you to show how sharp your skills are. Some of the stalls even offer books for rent. Renting is usually done with a per-day rate.
Before I wrap up and go my way, I would again describe Nilkhet as THE (not 'a') "book paradise"- at least how I visualize Heaven to be. The place is definitely worth your time…and do not be surprised if you soon turn out to be a regular there. Till then…
By Shahmuddin Siddiky
Photo: Munem Wasif