Aysha Raja, The Last Word

We finally connected with Aysha Raja after a few weeks of to and fro and it was well worth the wait. The former RJ is known among her friends and acquaintances for her love of books that she has turned into a steadily growing venture. ‘The Last Word’  one of the very few ‘well stocked’ book stores in Lahore is partly a commercial venture and mostly a labour of love.
Aysha is one of the few individuals resolved to contribute to the society in whatever way possible, and love of books is something she hopes to pass on. Her stand alone book store opened doors to book lovers in Lahore earlier this year after over six years of stocking in Karachi and Lahore.
Aysha is currently conducting a series of lectures on ‘Revolutions and the Middle East’ starting today. For more information on this and many more small and big events that take place regularly at ‘ The Last Word ‘ including regular book reading sessions for children, you can follow their facebook  page
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a bookseller who also doubles as a publicist with some publishing experience. Basically I’ll do anything (within reason) that will help sell a book.
Where did this journey start?
The first books I sold were out of my study, when I set up an exhibition back in 2006. From there I was generously given space at the PFDC when it first opened at 10Q. We expanded quickly to the floor above the Hot Spot at Gaddafi Stadium where we remained for 6 odd years till we moved to our current home above ‘The Lahore Social’ on Mehmood Kasuri Road earlier this year.
Can you trace this back to your childhood?
Reading? Yes. Bookselling? Well that’s a rather recent phenomena for me.
Speak to us about your influences, who helped hone Aysha as we know her today?
Every book I’ve ever read has made me who I am. It’s helped me build my foundations as a human being, and taught me to think critically and creatively. People who read have also heavily influenced me, as readers tend to share their knowledge and bring great insight to discussions.
It is safe to assume that you love reading, how did this love affair start?
As a child with a library card. Childhood is a magical time and I think the first time I became self-aware was when I started reading and responding to what I read.
You bought your love for books to people, was it a scary proposition initially?
Absolutely, but my passion far outweighed my fear and no matter what people said I was determined to start even if it was at a tiny scale.
Speak to us about your early days and the response you got?
The response was very good but I had no experience in business and was learning on my feet. Ultimately it was my lack of business know how that held me back and now with Sohail Salahuddin as a partner I think I may have overcome that.
What kept you going back then? Was it economically viable for you? Yes, but only just. It helped that I was also engaged as a publicist for authors like Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin and, Musharraf Ali Farooqui and had made a small foray into published with an anthology and a children’s book.
What made you decide to go full scale? Rather, who: Sohail Salahuddin. His expertise and encouragement have been invaluable and bode well for the future of The Last Word. Also as a publicist I have realised how important it is to have a space where people can interact with a work and/or an author.
How do you see the new age book reading? How does one compete with e books? I’m not so much competing with the e-book as I am with other forms of distraction. I have to convince people to put down their game consoles, phones and computers, and invest their time in a book. To that end we have developed a calendar of events that will see The Last Word turning into an inclusive intellectual space. We want to convince people to cultivate their minds and not to think of intellectualism and the domain of the academic or boring uncle.
You have a special nook for kids in your store, how does one inculcate the love for books in children in this day and age of rabid technology? Well it’s quite simple and foolproof. You enlist the parents. Ultimately a child will read if he/she see a parent reading. Also active parenting which involves reading bedtime stories will inculcate a love for reading. The earlier you start the more likely a child is to develop excellent reading and writing skills.
Is it easy to turn what you love into your livelihood? Yes. If you have a calling and are not easily deterred then you will always succeed.
You have a lovely family of your own now, how do you manage such a multifaceted life? Thank you. I would say that I manage the same way my husband does.
You are also heavily influenced by music, those who dont know you by face may know recognise your voice… tell us about your ‘other’ job? Ahh the one I lost this autumn? Errr maybe not right now. Still have to digest my departure from radio.
So who really is Aysha? The one who dwells at The Last Word and seeks you out to talk about books. That’s the real me. And when I’m in the company of my husband Rafay Alam, he brings out the best in me, as do I in him.
Where do you aspire to take your interests both music and books? My relationship with music will continue at The Last Word. I’d like to develop it as a venue space for music too. I’d also like to delve into the creative process of writing and its relationship with reading. Book are the best tools for teaching writing skills. I think it’s important that we learn to express ourselves in a thoughtful and productive way.
What advice have you held on to in all your years? Never stop learning and reading. Avenues open up when you’re aware of places, conditions, histories, concepts and movements. Not only does reading feed the soul, it creates opportunities you would never ordinarily have.
What would you say to those who want to follow their heart, and look at you for inspiration? By all means do what makes you happy, but try to ensure that it is ultimately for the betterment of society, we can’t afford to be selfish in a country like Pakistan. If your greatest pursuit is material gain then quite frankly you’ve got it wrong. If you don’t feel yourself growing or developing, do something about it. And lastly the greatest investment you can make is in people. Don’t underestimate them, there are many great minds among us.

Written by Sadaf Zarrar
Founding Partner