Under the shadow of the Charminar, little book stores bring the Quran and other Islamic texts to people, discovers Zeenab Aneez

This Ramzan may have seen electronic formats of the Quran hit the market, promising convenience and a wide array of translations. While that is a modern avatar, a walk down Pathergatti road in the Old City reveals a row of book stores which have been selling Islamic books the old fashioned way for over five decades.

You could easily mistake these stores for kiosks selling curios and silverware, owing to the ornate book covers and decorative Islamic art lining their walls. Inside, the musty smell of old paper mixed with the familiar scent of new books confirm that they are book shops.

Inside Minar Book Depot books of all sizes, shapes and colours are stacked neatly from floor to ceiling. Like others on the street, the store sells books relating to Islam. “We sell the Quran, the Hadees – a collection of sayings and deeds of the Prophet – and books used in Madrassas,” informsMohammed Mahmud who has been a salesman for 35 years. Even as he explains that most of the books are printed in Delhi and a few in Hyderabad before being transported across the state, a customer picks up eight copies of the Quran, the fastest selling book on their shelves.

To cater to a larger demographic, the Quran is sold with translations and commentary in English and in Urdu. “Not all of us are Arabic scholars, and while we can read Arabic, it is difficult to interpret some verses,” explains Mohammed.

These shops also sell smaller versions of the Quran that contain only particular verses or Surahs and tiny Qurans with gilded covers which fit into your pocket. Out of these the Surah Yaseen is the most popular.

Student’s Book House, which sold only the Quran, has now diversified into selling Urdu translations of story books and textbooks. Behind the counter is 17-year-old Syed Qadir Sameeruddin, manning the shop for his elder brother, a fourth generation owner of the store. “My great grandfather began this shop 67 years ago and we continue his business,” says Syed as he sells children’s books to a young woman. Adapting to changing times, Student’s Book House offers a courier service for clients living abroad.

Ask Mohammed about the first book shops in the area and his memory is foggy. “These shops have been here since I was a child but I began to work here in 1965, when the shop was around Gulzar Houz,” he recalls. When the area around the historical fountain was taken over for commercial ventures, the booksellers shifted shop to nearby streets.

“One of the biggest shops was at Gulzar Houz, I don’t remember the name but they employed 32workers!” he recalls before revealing that the children of the family that ran that store settled in Australia, choosing to pull its shutters down; a common story of most family-owned businesses here. As a result, many such book stores have come and gone. Most of these shops thrive because their customer base extends beyond Muslims to researchers and others curious about Islam.

“If it weren’t for the Charminar I would barely recognize this street from 20 years ago,” says Mohammed, concluding that all change happens with good reason.