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Bookbinding a craft on the decline.

Byline: Aamir Yasin

Affiliated with ancient Egypt, bookbinding has been an important craft throughout history including in India from the time when religious texts were inscribed on palm leaves and bound in the form of books.

The craft continues today, but with the arrival of the printing press and other technology it is dying out.

Bookbinders assemble pages, stitch them together with thread and cover the pages with a hard, decorative paper in order to protect the pages inside. In the old days, people would write texts by hand or have them printed at a press, and them bring them to bookbinders to have them assembled and bound.

Today, however, bookbinding is limited to textbooks, vehicle registration books and writing registered. City libraries are one of the main customers for bookbinder, and their staff are brought to libraries to protect old books.

There are many stores in Urdu Bazaar, a small lane in the downtown area towards Purana Qila, which offer bookbinding services. Work there gains momentum at the start of the academic year, and after summer vacations.

Bookbinding is an extensive process, with more than three craftspeople involved.

A worker cuts cardboard to size for a book cover.

'It used to produce employment for more people in the past, as most people came to craftsmen to have their books bound,' 65-year-old Ghulam Hussain, a bookbinder in Urdu Bazaar, told Dawn.

Despite the arrival of machinery, he said that most workers still use traditional methods to assemble, stitch and cover books, and they keep low prices for their service.

Mr Hussain explained that to start off, pages are arranged and glued and stitched together.

'In the second step, this block is attached to a hard cover made of cardboard, cloth binding or a plastic cover,' he said. Then, a worker sticks colourful or decorative papers to give a finishing touch and adds a bookmark.

Mr Hussain learned how to bind books when he was 20, and he has been doing it for 40 years. He said the craft is dying out, with more people turning to the cheaper X-ray sheet bookbinding.

A worker makes a hole in the book so it can be stitched together.

Yasir Ali, a bookbinder in Urdu Bazaar, said he has been working for 20 years but now wants to change professions because there are fewer customers coming in for bookbinding services.

'Customers have fallen in the last 10 years, as only school textbooks come to the shop for bookbinding.

'This workshop had more than five workers in the past, but now I work alone,' he said.

A newer method of bookkeeping has been introduced that uses X-ray sheets. Photos by Mohammad Asim

He added that it is mostly shopkeepers and go-down owners who come in to get their ledgers bound for record-keeping.

Mosque and seminary students also come to the shop to have copies of the Quran bound, he said, as well as religious manuscripts copied from seminary libraries' reference books.

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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Aug 11, 2019
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