Books in the Gulshan Avenue
With book-piracy spreading like wildfire in the country, what does the future have to offer to new bookstores like Words 'n Pages?
It is little wonder that since its inception on December 10 last year, Words 'n Pages (WnP) has declared a Jihad against pirated books. "We are dead against pirated books and the people who are responsible for it," Gibran Tanwir, senior manager (Marketing) of WnP, says. If it is a war the bookshop has waged, it is, indeed, a losing battle. Only a few yards away from the WnP's neatly showcased two-storied building at 125 Gulshan Avenue, hawkers can be seen selling cheap pirated copies of JK Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HPHBP)" at Tk 100 apiece. The same book WnP sold at Tk 1475 on its International Launch on July 16 this year.
So how will the bookstore withstand these buccaneers who are eating at the market for original books? "The solution", Tanwir believes, "lies in educating people through various workshops and exhibitions". To do that the WnP wants to set up a book-readers' club in the country and has also been planning to organise book-reading events. Like it did with HPHBP, the store promises to hold a number of international book-launching ceremonies.
The idea of setting up a bookstore of international stature first came to the mind of Neil Antunis, who worked as the senior manager of merchandising and operations with Etc, a local bookshop. An Indian by birth, Antunis passed his dream on to Nima Rahman, a well known TV actress, who agreed to finance a bookshop in the city that will cater to an ever-growing readership of English books.
The WnP has around 40,000 titles at its disposal, but it does not have a place for great fictions like Franz Kafka's The Castle or America. When it comes to classics, the collection, sadly, is far from being rich. Apart from a few Dickens and Crusoe, WnP has so far failed to honour some of the masters: no Henry James or Kate Chopin, no Iris Murdoch either. The bookstore has a book of literary criticism by AS Byatt on the works of Murdoch, but besides that no work of such kind can be found on its shelves.
The bookshop's catalogue on translation is in a sorrier state too. Robert Musil or Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is not available in any of the bookshops across the city; WnP is no exception either. Most of the Russian masters have failed to show up too.
Of the booker-longlisted 16 books, the WnP has only Japanese-born Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. It does not have any book written by listed novelists like Ian MacEwan or Ali Smith. A strike called by Clearing and Forwarding Agents at the Benapole border is blamed for it: the WnP promises to upgrade its collection in months.
What the WnP can afford to boast on is heaps of Stephen King and Dan Brown that glitter in its display. Surprisingly for a Dhaka-bookstore, it has also an admirable collection of books on philosophy. What, however, sets the WnP apart from other shops in town is a small café--fondly called Café Insomnia--that, with a full strength, can cater to around 20 customers. Book lovers can take books to the café and have a look at them before making a decision. It is hard to do though as--in the absence of a nice place to hang around in the city--some tattle-loving School-goers, it seems, mistake the café for a safe heaven to chatter. It offers snacks delicious enough to make even a glutton's stomach stir, but Café Insomnia is a misnomer, for it, alas, closes at 10 in the evening.
Apart from these minor incongruities, the WnP, as a nascent bookshop, has everything to become a booklovers' Eden. The ambience is good; a few more good books will surely make it even better.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005