April 23 is World Book Day and in its honour I took a trip to Dhaka’s unrivalled book buying and selling hub – Nilkhet. With rows after rows of alleys circling around each other and tiny lanes that lead to an unending number of shops, Nilkhet sells just about every type of book one could possibly want.
Mohammad Amin Hossain has been a bookseller at the market for almost all his life. Asked what is most popular with the readers of Dhaka these days he answers, “A lot of the English novels published recently are selling really well. For Bangla, Humayun Ahmed always sold well and sells just as well today.” Hossain is among those booksellers who have been part of the market for so long, they have seen the crowd evolve. “The life of our market has always been the students. From school students to masters degree level, about 80 percent of this market’s customers have always been students.” “And the other 20 percent has been the guardians of those students,” a nearby shopkeeper adds laughing.
The narrow alleyways can feel a little congested. Craning my head to read the titles of volumes stacked in enormous piles from floor to ceiling, I caught sight of many a salesman half visible with one half of their body in the false ceilings above the store searching for books and the other half expertly balanced on a floor to ceiling ladder.
Mohammad Tofazzal Hussain, proprietor at another shop spilled on a different type of book that is popular with the Dhaka crowd now, “Motivational and psychology based books are selling the most. This includes self help books. Sidney Sheldon, Malcolm Gladwell, Yuval Noah Harrari are also authors that are quite popular.” Based on the collection in sight, Bangla translations of English books were selling too. “Popular books in English and their translated versions sell almost equally well in our shop,” Hussain says.
The most prominent collection displayed in each store were of the authors who gained popularity quite recently. “Jenny Han and Elif Shafak are selling the most right now and so is that book,” Mohammad Monir Hossain, proprietor of a shop says pointing to a copy of ‘Six of Crows’ by Leigh Bardugo. “Overall Murakami, Stephen King, John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, Danielle Steele, Agatha Christie and Khaled Hosseini are our biggest sellers,” he adds.
However, classic works of literature were also part of every shop’s collection. “Classics sell too. Not just for class, but people buy classics for pleasure reading too,” Hossain informs.
The appeal of Nilkhet doesn’t stop there as shopkeepers buy back used books as well. “We buy books from customers and pay according to the appeal of which writer’s book it is. The condition of the book would factor in as well,” a shopkeeper explains.
Brand new, second hand, imported, local, Bangla, English – Nilkhet continues to serve the readers of Dhaka to this day. There are rare books available here which aren’t sold in other book shops in the city, as the shopkeepers here will proudly tell you. Dhaka is not home to as many bookshops as any booklover would like but a trip here serves as a reminder that the local reading culture continues to thrive.
Mrittika Anan Rahman is a daydreamer trying hard not to run into things while walking. Find her at email@example.com