KARACHI, March 1: The Dastur Dr Dhalla library has recovered seven out of the 21 manuscripts which were smuggled out of the country while they were in the custody of the archaeological department of Pakistan.

Located at New Sezdeghah in Dinshaw B. Avari Colony, the library contains more than 16,500 books.

The senior most priest of the Zoroastrian community in Pakistan, Godrej Sidhwa, told Dawn that the Dastur Dr Dhalla library had received a letter from an official of the British Library, saying that some manuscripts from the collection of Dastur Dhalla were on sale in England.

The librarian in charge of the British Library's Persian and Iranian Section, Ursula Sims-Williams, wrote the letter on June 3, 2000 to the Dastur Dr Dhalla library.

The letter said: "I enclose a list of two manuscripts which I believe your brother mentioned to you. They were offered to us for sale and we should like to have purchased them, particularly as Dastur Dhalla has a close connection with the India Office Library and catalogued our collection of Iranian manuscripts for us in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1912. However, we have serious misgivings as to how they came to leave the Dhalla collection, and whether they were legally exported from Pakistan, so we cannot possibly purchase them."

Mr Sidhwa said he went to England to retrieve the stolen manuscripts. The librarian of the Dastur Dr Dhalla library, Dorabji Dastur, told Dawn that other than Dastur Dhalla's collection, which contained about 1,000 volumes, the library had books from the collections of the Young Men Zoroastrian Association (15,000 books), Dr Maneck B. Pithawalla (250 books), Minoo M. Mistry (200 books) and Dr Rohinton Khambatta (117 books).

Shams-ul-Ulema Dastur Dr Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla (1875- 1956) was the High Priest of the Parsis of Pakistan. Dr Maneck B. Pithawalla was former principal of the BVS Parsi High School. Minoo M. Mistri is a well-known architect and Dr Rohinton Khambatta is a leading heart specialist.

"The YMZA collection was previously housed in the Katrak compound in Saddar. It was relocated to Dinshaw B. Avari Colony on Nov 18, 2000. At present, catalogues containing information about the books are being prepared," Mr Dastur said.

Mr Sidhwa said Dastur Dhalla's collection remained in the custody of the archaeology department for 30 years. He added that the collection, which was in poor condition, returned to the Parsi community in 1998.

The former director-general of the archaeology department, Ahmad Nabi Khan, recalled that following the death of Dastur Dhalla in 1956, his collection was acquired by the archaeology department.

"Former finance secretary Mumtaz Hasan, French archaeology expert Raul Couriel, and leading scholar Pir Hussamuddin Rashdi persuaded the Parsi community to let the archaeology department have Dastur Dhalla's collection of books. These well-meaning gentlemen had no idea that the archaeology department would afterwards take no care of the books," he said.

Mr Khan said Dastur Dhalla's collection contained some of the finest books on the Zoroastrian faith. Leading archaeologist Dr Asma Ibrahim told Dawn that she had consulted quite a few history books from the Dastur Dr Dhalla library when she was trying to find out whether or not a mummy discovered in 1999 was bogus. "The Dastur Dr Dhalla library has some excellent books on Iranian and Zoroastrian history. They helped establish that the mummy was fake," she said.

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