IT is a calm Friday in the month of July. On the main Sariab Road — in the southern part of the city — a small number of motorcycles and vehicles move along the road, which is quite unusual.
Attired in shalwar kameez, three students are awaiting my arrival in front of the University of Balochistan gate.
Situated at half an hour’s walk from the varsity gate, the town of Lore Karaiz occupies a mammoth place in the heart of Sariab. With its population in thousands, the town’s roads are tortuous. Most inhabitants of the town belong to the working class. And the government’s apathy is distinctly visible in the town.
In half an hour, we reach the main entrance gate of the library. An old Toyota Corolla car is parked in front of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Hospital, which was built in Lore Karaiz when the Pakistan Peoples Party was in power. Since then, it has remained closed.
Bismillah, Naveed and Maqsood — all students — went to provincial PPP chief Haji Ali Madad Jattak for his support to turn the hospital into a library. “Jattak not only allowed us but also assisted us financially,” reveals Bismillah, who has recently got a degree in political science from the same varsity.
In the main hall of Lore Karaiz Sariab Public Library, Yaqoob Baloch is hunched over Shaukat Siddiqui’s Khuda Ki Basti novel. Young Yaqoob is a voracious reader. Ever since the opening of the library, he says he has been reading books. “Although I had a penchant for books, I could not fulfil my desire much previously,” recalls Yaqoob, who visits the library regularly. “Now I spend most of the time here.”
Within a short span of time, there are more than 1,500 books collected by these students. The number of members has also exceeded 100. “The monthly fee is Rs200 if the member can afford, otherwise we do not take a single penny from him,” says Bismillah, adding that “with this amount we pay for bills and meet other expenses of library”.
Sariab is among the backward towns of Quetta district. It lags in terms of education, health and other facilities. Co-founder Maqsood, after a brief silence, goes on to add: “A negative image of Sariab has been portrayed for decades that there are killings, a law and order issue, and all sorts of evils here. Like other parts of Quetta, students of this part are also talented and can compete with others. But they have not got a medium due to negative portrayal of Sariab. Due to this reason, teachers run away, and they do not come here to teach.”
“Bismillah, Naveed and I worked day in and day out to open the library. In some places, we even implored our politicians and other affluent members of society to kindly help us open the library,” adds Maqsood angrily. “Now we are founders, librarians, cleaners, sweepers and watchmen of this library.”
Lore Karaiz is a poverty-stricken town. Lots of students abandon studies after schooling. Unlike boys, challenges for girls are even worse. They are married off at a very young age. Naveed shares that his parents did the same with his sister.
“She wanted to continue her studies, but my parents did not allow her, also there were not any good educational institutions in our town,” laments Naveed. “Ever since the launch of our library, the good news is that lots of women and their parents have contacted us that they want to study in the library. However, we do not have much space for women. If not now, in the future we will definitely open a section in the library for them to come and study,” he adds.
There are some people in Lore Karaiz who scathingly criticise these students for turning the hospital into a library. Given that there is no hospital in the area, there was some hope that the government would make the hospital functional eventually.
Bismillah, however, disagrees. According to him, the hospital had remained closed for several years.
“If the government wants to make the hospital functional, we will welcome it. A hospital physically treats you, and a library treats you mentally,” he remarks.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2019