March 10, 2016

In the Company of Those Who Read: Bookay, the Secret Pakistani Book Club

Source: Bookay Cover Photo by Zoya Amjad

What do you think about reading trends in Pakistan?

Initially I thought it was just Pakistan that was facing a reading crisis, but I travelled abroad and I realized it’s a global trend. For a lot of people, reading isn’t cool anymore. Especially young people, they look towards new sources of entertainment, and I think that’s very tragic. At some deep level books change you in ways that movies and shows can’t.


The Introduction

Pakistan is an odd place for any sort of group or business to flourish online; think ridiculous load shedding hours, lack of internet connectivity in the majority of the country, language issues. And yet, book readers thrive everywhere. In the online world, Pakistani readers, separated by distance and complex issues of identity, political differences and social class all gather together on Bookay, a Facebook group started by two students who shared an interest in reading and a frustration borne of an inability to locate relevant books easily. Bookay has both an international as well as national audience, and it’s discussion topics are not limited to Pakistani writing only; it is only by virtue of its administrators a desi platform for a very desi audience, who talk about everything from Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who exhibit interest in John Green but also Umera Ahmed, who share the frustrations of small book shelves and expensive books and how to find the right book at the right time. For Pakistani readers hoping to find a place where they fit in perfectly, Bookay is the place to go.

Why You Should Be Interested

Here’s the thing: a lot of people will tell you that the reason readership in Pakistan is low is because not a lot of people in Pakistan read. And on a superficial level it’s true, because it’s hard to bump into readers out on the streets. But one only needs to look at the thronging crowds during literary festivals, or on places like Bookay in the online world to find readers in Pakistan emerging from all corners, ready and willing to engage in smart, funny conversations about the state of literature in the country. Bookay is proof that passion for both writing and reading continues to exist in Pakistan, and it is groups like these that will create the next batch of readers and writers in the country.

The Location

It's a secret. Only those already part of the club can invite others in, so one must prove themselves worthy. Read enough and write enough and maybe someone will provide you with the password as well. After all, for an invitation to discuss books in an online world that welcomes all readers, one can always dream.