KARACHI: If you’re a literature buff and you’re asked whether you’d like to hear recordings of Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, David Jones and Robert Graves reading their own poems, chances are you’d go crazy with excitement. Or, for that matter, you’re a fan of art-house cinema and were offered to take a peek into the creative process of the great Ingmar Bergman, you’d leap at the opportunity in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
These audio tapes and a large quantity of books, 8,500 to be precise, are now part of the yet-to-be-inaugurated Josh Malihabadi Library and Archives at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi.
The aforementioned precious items are from the collection of none other than one of the greatest prose writers and satirists in Urdu literature, the late Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi.
The question is: how did they land in the library? Poet Dr Fatema Hassan is the chief organiser of the library and archives section situated on the second floor of the newly built council building. She was asked to join the cultural space in that position by the council’s president Ahmed Shah, which she did in September 2020.
There’s room for 150,000 books in the library which currently has 20,000
Talking about when the facility will be formally open to the public, she said, “As you know it’s a new building named after Ahmed Shah that we’re in. The hall in which books are kept is also new. Shelves are still being installed. It’s work-in-progress.”
On the capacity of the library Dr Hassan said, “There’s room for 150,000 books in it. Right now, there are 20,000. But lots are in the pipeline. We’re gathering books slowly as and when shelves are getting ready. We do that once their cataloguing is done.”
The chief organiser told Dawn that since the library is named after the eminent poet Josh Malihabadi, a showcase with his name on it will soon be made.
She appealed to the book readers of the city that whatever material related to Josh sahib they possess, it’d be a great service to the council if they donated their possessions to the archives section.
Since the Arts Council is an institution that the common man has access to, Dr Hassan said the council is already running three academies — music, art and theatre — for the youngsters. The members of the council will have the facility available to them, too. The digitisation process will take a bit of time. As far as the material goes, books on all genres of art will be part of the library.
Shedding light on Mr Yusufi’s collection, Dr Hassan said, “I was close to Yusufi sahib until he breathed his last. I always thought that the books and tapes that he used to buy, quite a few of them he did when me and my husband were with him, needed to be preserved. One day [after the writer’s death] when his son Arshad mentioned his father’s books, I told him that they required a separate space (gosha) for it. I was thinking about it when Ahmed Shah got in touch with me and asked me to join his team. He was also close to Yusufi sahib. I told him that Yusufi sahib’s books should be picked up, and in no time we shifted the books and other material here.”
Speaking about a couple of priceless pieces, she said there’s a collection of Firaq’s poetry and a CD on which Indian poet Gulzar has written a note for Yusufi sahib.
Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2021