KARACHI: It’s a vintage library. All it has is a few halls lined with cabinets full of books and nothing but books. Urdu books, most of them. No computer, no Wi-fi connection, so you cannot google anything. Unlike Wikipedia, what you read here doesn’t require double checking. These are all books, authentic books.
Karachi’s Bedil Library has been serving book lovers since early 1974, but it is seldom discussed — though people crib about the shortage of libraries in the city — because it is located in Sharfabad near Bahadurabad. Yes, there’s a shortage, but then there are people like Dr Mohammad Zafeerul Hasan who set up the library and the unassuming, amiable Mohammad Zubair who has been in charge since 1996, sitting quietly behind a table, never hankering after praise or acknowledgement, helping people read books.
The library is located on the second floor of Sharfabad Club. It is named after the enigmatic Persian poet Abdul Qadir Bedil who inspired many a great Urdu poet, including Ghalib. This is a clear indicator to the library’s leaning: it has a vast majority of books which cater to students and researchers of Urdu literature. The second big chunk at the facility has newspapers and periodicals which, too, help researchers a great deal.
The first part of Bedil Library is its reading room, with a big table around which book lovers sit and go through books. An opening from the reading room leads into three big, high-ceilinged walls, entering which can make any voracious reader’s mouth water. It’s like seeing a treasure trove. Yes, the area needs a bit of cleaning up and even perhaps scrubbing, but the fact that only two, Zubair and his subordinate, run the place, keeping it tidy is not an easy task.
The books here are primarily from personal collections of noted men of letters donated to the library either by themselves or by their near and dear ones, such as the distinguished late critics Mohammad Hasan Askari and Abul Khair Kashafi. They range from classic works of poetry and prose to works on religion. For example, one cabinet that contains books once owned by Askari sahib (as he was fondly known) include Kulliyat-i-Nasr Hali, Kulliyat-i-Mir and Ajaibul Qasas.
The hall next to it is the newspaper section. It has copies of the daily Dawn from 1974 (when the library was incepted) and of the daily Jang from 1962. The adjoining hall is dedicated to periodicals arranged in alphabetical order. An opening from this room leads into another portion where mounds of books are lying on the floor because they have not yet been sorted out (since the library gets a regular supply from different people). One of the paperbacks that can be picked off the floor is On the Nature of Man by John Langdon-Davies.
Talking to Dawn Mohammad Zubair said, “We have books from 64 collections of men of letters. When the library was first established, it had only one room and 300 books. Today we have hundreds of thousands of them. The Bihar Muslim Cooperative Society looks after Bedil Library which is open daily from 4pm to 8pm and every day we receive 15 to 20 visitors. Most of them are researchers, pursuing a PhD, an MPhil or a masters’ degree. I can say that so far more than 60 people who have come here for research have obtained their PhDs.”
Wow! More than 60 PhDs. It is mind-boggling that not many societies or well-off individuals in the city have taken a leaf out of Bedil Library’s book.
Mohammad Zubair added that the library does not have a computer. “Just recently Dr Salman Faridi has donated a computer and we will soon try and use it as per modern-day requirements. For now, what we do is that we keep all the records of the books that we have in ledgers (registers). We don’t lend books, mind you. We allow readers to photocopy them, but they can’t take them home.”
One is reminded of the writer Jorge Luis Borge’s words: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Imagine a Karachi dotted with libraries.
Published in Dawn, July 22th, 2015