Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Travel Writing in Pakistan

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Be assured that travel writing is not even considered a genre of writing in Pakistan. In this country, sadly, only fiction is writing. Moreover, Pakistanis will not deign to read a book on Pakistan. It seems as if they think it an activity below their dignity and status. They might read a newspaper article, but never ever a book. Especially true if the book is written by a Pakistani. The Pakistani travelogue therefore has no future.
 
Several times in Islamabad where bookstores stock my work, I have, without disclosing my identity, asked the sellers who buys my books. The answer is an unambiguous 'ONLY FOREIGNERS'. The same question was asked of the man in the kiosk inside Karachi's departure lounge and the response was the same. A few months ago, in Liberty Books, Clifton, Karachi, the salesman told me that a man about my age came looking for The Apricot Road to Yarkand and after turning it this way and that and learning that it cost Rs 2200, did not buy it. Foreigners being my only readers is not because of the high price of my publisher's product, it is simply that Pakistanis do not read. I have actually never met a stranger, a Pakistani, who has read my book. Some know me from my newspaper articles, but no one knows that I have a few books as well. But I have met so many foreigners who have read my books.
 
Travel writing in newspapers unfortunately is only an account of the family vacation to Murree. There is no other professional travel writer. The cost is too high and the dividends too low. Only a lunatic would want to be one. We must remember that a travel writer has to be a geographer, an historian, an anthropologist, sociologist and last of all an autobiographer. Now, to be the first two, one has to read, read, read, read. Pakistanis simply do not read. Their only reading is for exams, not for edification.
 
The bottom line is that travel writing is dead in Pakistan.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:26 PM,

19 Comments:

At March 17, 2013 at 1:34 PM, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

A very impressive, touching and truthful post! Wish Pakistanis start reading. And, for that purpose we will have to run Reading and Writing programs right from grass root level.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 2:00 PM, Blogger the ethical man said...

I think it's same in India..people only buy fiction books..but that trend is somewhat changing..I read history books for reference, to find the real truth not what Brits or invaders wrote..

There is this books by Amish Tripathi Shiva trilogy

The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, The Oath of the Vayuputras. is all worth reading.. with grt historical refrence..

I was looking for your book 'Jhelum: City of the Vitasta' in the book stores and even online book stores..I did'nt find it..I want to know the history, figures from Balochistan, NWFP, Gandhar etc. because I know at the times till 700 AD Harsh Vardhan empire..these places were very civilised..with universaties,stupas culture..I am sure someone knows the truth..

 
At March 17, 2013 at 6:41 PM, Anonymous Deb Sistrunk said...

In the U.S., local and regional writers often are not read as much as books (often fiction) on the bestsellers list. The readers I know are also less likely to read any type of non-fiction, particularly books that are travel, historical, or cultural in nature.

I admit that I am much more likely to read travel articles on your site than in American publications. People like to read about far away places. Pakistan is unlike any place in America; some foreign readers might consider it "exotic."

In the U.S., the attention span of many adults is getting shorter and shorter. These people often read shorter works on the web or in e-books. For many of us, life comes at us fast, and we don't have as much leisure time as we used to. Could this be true in Pakistan?

Here's an idea: To encourage more people to read, consider writing publications in easy-to-read language that engage students and get those books placed in schools. Even better, have someone build a curriculum around the book. If you can get young people interested in reading about travel, that habit might continue into adulthood.

For now, continue to produce for your foreign readers. I hope that audience continues to grow. Good luck!

 
At March 17, 2013 at 7:48 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

No sir, people read your books. I have recently borrowed your book The Apricot Road to Yarkand and am reading and loving it.
Yes, affordability is one of the problems here in Pakistan. I can’t afford to buy all of your books though I want to. Literacy rate, reading culture and internet are some others.
Please keep on. Keep documenting what we are poised to lose otherwise.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 7:54 PM, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

No sir, people read your books. I have recently borrowed your book The Apricot Road to Yarkand and am reading and loving it.

Yes, affordability is one of the problems here in Pakistan. I can’t afford to buy all of your books though I want to. Literacy rate, reading culture and internet are some others.

Please keep on. Keep documenting what we are poised to lose otherwise.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 8:19 PM, Anonymous Ghazala Azam said...

My two favorites ; traveling and reading. If I can quit my job and spend rest of my life travelling and reading I'll be the happiest person. Each time I go to Pakistan I try to buy some books. One of the books I bought last time was actually a travelogue. I guess I know what I am buying next. Are mr. Rashid's books available on Amazon.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 9:32 PM, Anonymous Ko said...

True. We read foreign authors, foreign magazines, watch foreign media (BBC, CNN) and trust them more than locals even if locals like you have much more to tell and in a much better way.

Salman, you know why? Your fellow writers have mostly betrayed our trust. How many of them you think do a hard research like you do? I am sure many of them write books sitting home. No?

Keep writing please. You work is an important part of our history. You owe it to next generations.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 10:46 PM, Blogger Sajini Chandrasekera said...

Very interesting post and I enjoyed reading. There was time I use to read but now it has vanished from me. I have heard so much about you even though I live in Sri Lanka and I heard that you are one of the best writers in Pakistan and i is a privilege to read your articles even through this blog.
Please keep writing as we learn a lot from each and every word from you.

 
At March 18, 2013 at 12:02 AM, Blogger Jalal Hameed said...

Good observation - we as a nation do not have the habit of reading book. And if the books costs Rs.2,200, rest assured no one would buy it.
In my opinion, writers and publishers go for expensive offset printing which increases the price manifold. Why can't we go for paperback editions published on cheap papers that would cost just a few hundred rupees and can be easily affordable.
We have seen text books printed in offset printing and no on buys these - but paperbacks printed in Indian are available in dirt cheep prices which are bought mostly by the students.
I think we need to ponder over it.

 
At March 19, 2013 at 12:34 AM, Anonymous Carol Yates Wilkerson said...

Never having been to Pakistan, and not being able to completely understand the culture and economics, it never occurred to me that a country with such a rich history would have citizens who do not read about so many things, including the geography of the land. I'm sure there is a thirst for knowledge, but it sounds like it is devoted entirely to educational studies with no ability to expand into this field. Do they teach geography in the schools? Usually, the teachers in schools offer a reading list for outside information. What is the disconnect here? Are there libraries from which to borrow books if one can't afford to buy them?

 
At March 22, 2013 at 9:42 PM, Anonymous Attique said...

Travel is a specialized subject not to the taste of every one. Only some people are interested to know about the obscure places. Your writing style is also above the grasp of a normal readers.

I love your work because it takes me to places in Pakistan where I am not likely to go in my entire life. Have read three of your books. Now I am regular reader here. Thanks for coming online.

 
At March 30, 2013 at 10:58 AM, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Disagree with the first paragraph. People do read safar namas.
Price can be one of the facrors.
I read a joke on my facebook page saying, ''jis mulk me kitab menhngi aur jootay sastay hon, us qaum ko kitabon ki nhi, jooton ki zaroorat hai''.
This is the decline age of books due to internet infiltration. Book reading needs a place to sit on with peace and the peace with and in the human beings is gone with the wind. Now running humans can hear music, but cant read a book.

 
At March 30, 2013 at 2:58 PM, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Disagree with the first paragraph. People do read safar namas.
Price can be one of the factors.
I read a joke on my facebook page saying, ''jis mulk me kitab menhngi aur jootay sastay hon, us qaum ko kitabon ki nhi, jooton ki zaroorat hai''.
This is the decline age of books due to internet infiltration. Book reading needs a place to sit on with peace and the peace with and in the human beings is gone with the wind. Now running humans can hear music, but cant read a book.

 
At March 31, 2013 at 7:21 PM, Anonymous Ayesha Kalim said...

Your ideas are beautiful no doubt, however to some extent I agree that people in Pakistan dont have a proper taste for reading and writing and therefore remain uninterested in buying books rather prefer verbal comments or debating only. Still, you must keep writing using other mediums like blogging, websites, social media for expression of your skill. Buying expensive books is now quite difficult as well. Keep writing for those who appreciate your thoughts and ideas and promote beauty of Pakistan. Good luck!

 
At April 9, 2013 at 11:11 PM, Anonymous Friend of Dolls said...

Very discouraging but one can't leave what one loves due to unfavorable environments. Keep up.

 
At April 24, 2013 at 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG!

 
At April 28, 2013 at 5:15 PM, Anonymous iqbal awan said...

Sir, i developed my reading habit with lot of efforts,but it is very unfortunate that in Pakistan nobody bothers proof reading and errors piracy is on its peak.One thing other if u allow me,is that in my country merit is violence (badmashi) and not book reading,even otherwise if u are aware of per capita income in Pakistan then u will rethink about bookshoping at here.

 
At January 13, 2015 at 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it be that your books are written such that they are only interesting to foreigners? Or perhaps you really believe that travel writing is not appreciated by us Pakistanis and that it is the foreigners who are buying all of Mustansar Husain Tarar's books.

 
At April 27, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

agree with Saima Ashraf

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days