A portion of Ghalib Library adorned with calligraphy by Sadequain. - Photo by Arif Mahmood/White Star
KARACHI, Aug 28: It is with great reverence and excitement Naseem Ahmed, a dedicated and long-time staff member at Ghalib Library, unties the bulging black folder. Stored in an old steel grey almirah, the seemingly ordinary folder contains a collection of letters written by such literary luminaries as Marxist intellectual Sibte Hasan, Ghalib scholar Ralph Russell, playwright Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, poet Josh Maleehabadi, scholar and Congress leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many more.
One is transported back in time when scanning Ralph Russell’s letter to Sibte Hasan written on a medium-sized vintage blue airmail stationery paper cum envelope with postmarked stamp dated March 23, 1969. “I was especially pleased to hear of the new building for the Idara-e-Yadgar-e-Ghalib,” mentions Mr Russell in neat and clear handwriting. “Main dobara nazil honay wala houn, farar-e-fani kay vastay kamar kas rakhiye,” writes Josh to Sibte Hasan indicating warm camaraderie between the two intellectuals. Ghalib Library also has in its possession a letter by Begum Taseer, mother of the slain governor Salman Taseer, in which she discusses Karachi, a book edited by her husband M.D. Taseer.
Teeming with such letters in thousands, Nazia Mukhtar, the librarian at Ghalib Library, says that each of these manuscripts is preserved in acid-free sheets to increase their longevity. When questioned that surely, this collection of rare letters must be displayed and shared with the general public and even with scholars who want to study relationships between these literary personalities, Ms Mukhtar, who has been with the library for the past seven years, says that earlier they would show these letters only to certain visitors but the advisory and the editorial boards of the Idara-e-Yadgar-e-Ghalib, that established the library, realising the significance of these letters have decided to publish some of these letters. “We have sorted out the letters and categorised them. At the moment we are composing some of them so that they can be published,” says Ms Mukhtar. “We have sifted the academic letters from the ordinary ones. Our plan is to print some letters in their original form and alongside have their typed version for easy reading. We may either print it in our magazine Ghalib or in a book,” says a member of the editorial board.
Situated near the Nazimabad underpass, the two-storey spacious structure was built by Habib Bank and opened to the public in 1971 through the efforts of scholar Mirza Zafarul Hasan and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Both these gentlemen had three years earlier set up Idara-e-Yadgar-e-Ghalib that had several objectives, some of which include: to publish critical analysis of Ghalib’s works, translate them into other languages, to provide resources to academics and researchers about Ghalib and literary personalities of his era, to celebrate Ghalib’s birth anniversary and to publish a literary magazine.
The initial years marked the achieving of some of the stated objectives including the publishing of literary journal Ghalib under the editorship of Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 1974 and even printed the following publications: Dud-e-Chiragh-e-Mehfil by Dr Syed Hassamuddin Rashdi, Bazm-e-Iqbal by Abdur Rauf Urooj, Ghalib, Sab Achha Kahein Jisay by Prof Karrar Hussain. One of the objectives was to translate their publications but it only managed to translate Prof Karrar’s book in four languages.
It made available 3,000 books and 375 literary magazines to researchers in its early years. However, due to funding shortages, its quarterly literary magazine and its other related activities either halted or declined over the years. Nearly seven years ago, Ghalib Library was in the news for being in poor condition so much so that there were fears that it may be closed down.
But now the Ghalib Library has had a mini-turnabout courtesy certain quiet benefactors, dedicated staff and a passionate advisory board. Former Karachi Nazim Niamatullah Khan of the Jamaat-i-Islami, had the library’s interior refurbished after it was vacated by Habib Bank. Fatima Surayya Bajia, prominent TV scriptwriter and member of the advisory board of Idara-e-Yadgar-e-Ghalib, requested Sindh governor Ishratul Ibad for funds to repair the leakage in the ceiling of the library that was promptly carried out by the staff of the then city district government of Karachi. Infaq Foundation that was set up by banker Agha Hasan Abedi continues to provide funds to the library.
It now has a rich collection of over 40,000 books mostly donated by book lovers who do not have the space in their homes to store their burgeoning collection. The library also has an unenviable collection of pre-partition magazines era targeting women such as Tehzeeb, literary magazines such as Seep and Nuqoosh, and vintage illustrated Shahnama-e-Firdousi, Tilism-e-Hoshruba, Alif Laila amongst its set of rare books. Syed Sadiq Abdali, the library’s lone computer operator for the past seven years, has classified 6,000 books in folders in library’s computer that are searchable by title of the book, author’s name, year of publication and name of publisher.
So far nearly 70 publications have been printed pertaining to the critical analysis of Ghalib’s works with six books in the pipeline. Ghalib, the magazine, had not been printed for 12 years until its 19th volume was published in 2000. Its 20th volume was printed in 2012 and has just printed its 21st volume that features a handwritten manuscript ‘Qaat-e-Burhan’ by Ghalib discovered in Amroha, India.
Besides, there are also plans for a lecture on Iqbal on his birth anniversary by eminent scholar Dr Tehseen Firaqi next year. “After a long time things are beginning to look good for the Ghalib Library, but a lot still needs to be done,” says Bajia.