Reading habits have been on a decline in Bangladesh for many years now. Where three or four decades ago it was usual to come upon social welfare clubs even in the rural areas for the young and the middle-aged to come together for reading --- those clubs generally had stocks of good books --- today it is almost a barren countryside that we come across intellectually. The influx of Hindi movies and the arrival of mobile phones have put paid to reading. And the crisis is not only to be found in the villages. In the cities too the old attraction to reading has gone down to regrettable levels.
In the capital Dhaka itself there has been what is euphemistically called a downsizing of bookshops. The old bookshops in New Market have largely remained, but the shops which dealt in old books in such areas as Bijoynagar have as good as disappeared. At Nilkhet, the treasure of books which people once found there has now been replaced by notebooks and other tomes catering to such activities as preparing for various examinations.
Inside Aziz Market, where once it was a veritable paradise of bookshops, the number of stores selling books has been on a precipitous decline. They have been replaced by shops catering to people whose interests lie in fashion and cosmetic goods. The bookstore Words & Pages is now not heard of in Gulshan.
At the old airport in Tejgaon, The Bookworm, where some of the best books produced abroad and sold at reasonable prices can be found, lingers in the fear that it may be asked to relocate. The very rich bookstore Et Cetera on Dhanmondi Road 27 vanished years ago.
In all this darkness, Pathak Shamabesh at Shahbagh struggles bravely on. And now there is news of the Chittagong-based Batighar setting up an outlet in the precincts of Bishwa Shahitya Kendra in Dhaka. Good for us.
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