Books in Lahore’s Horror Movie Joint

By Shomial Ahmad

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The Last Word is a bookshop in Lahore's Gadhafi Stadium. You won't spot a sign for the store on the stadium's perimeter, because the shop's bookshelves are inside a popular Pakistani cafe chain, The Hot Spot.

It's the spot where I'd go when I wanted to be by myself in Lahore. I didn't feel like a lost American there; I could be nostalgic.

Browsing the shelves, I remembered finishing Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in a Los Angeles hotel or reading Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in a Brooklyn gym. A recycled copy of The Lorax stands tall on one of the tables and a stack of bite-size books that are a part of Penguin's Great Idea series sits next to it.

 

imageAysha Raja, Last Word's owner

 

The latest South Asian fiction in English is also there, including Words Without Border's guest editor Basharat Peer's memoir, Curfewed Night. The shelves carry the Urdu epic, Adventures of Amir Hamza, and The Last Word's owner, Aysha Raja, can't wait to stock the translation of the epic tale Tilism-e-Hoshruba. She says the books are Urdu's fantasy novels, and translating the epics could be a potential gold mine.

And Raja's been busy creating a literary scene in Pakistan. She's helping out with the region's first ever short story prize competition, Life's Too Short. She's planned events with Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Hanif and Daniyal Mueenuddin when they've been promoting their books in Pakistan.

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All these books - big art tomes and graphic novels - are in the campiest cafe in Pakistan. There's a collection of horror movie paraphenialia, including a limited-edition Freddy Krueger doll and the skull from "Zibahkhana," Pakistan's first slasher flick. The walls are covered with B-list movie posters, and there's also a sign, "We serve brunch all day."

I had brunch one afternoon with Aysha Raja. She said that she set up shop to fill the literary void in her life. She wanted more than what was the standard Pakistani bookstore fare: self-help, current events, business management, Sufi spiritualism and some airport fiction.

I'd go to the bookstore when I wanted to fill a void too. Once, when I was in bad mood on a hot, Lahore day, I dropped in for a 'super thick' Belgian chocolate shake. I bought two novellas too. I bought a graphic novel and a comic book when I couldn't think of something better to get for a friend's wedding. And the week that I was set to say good-bye to Lahore, I got a juice made from falsa, a bittersweet summertime berry. Almost all packed up and ready to leave Lahore, I bought no books that last time.

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Shomial Ahmad is a writer and journalist. She taught in a university in Lahore.


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