Dawn, October 6, 2013
Away it went in ignominy, on hundreds of wheelbarrows to be dumped in a dirty, humid and putrid discarded horse stable. I am talking about one of the world’s finest, and surely the second largest collection of rare books, manuscripts and document dealing with the history of Punjab, from Kabul to Delhi and from Kashmir to Sindh over the last 500 years.
In the old horse stable of the Lahore Civil Secretariat, in dark, moldy, dingy conditions, lies this amazing collection, all official record let me clarify, of over 70,000 rare books and under one million rare manuscripts and documents, piles upon piles, on the floor, on old broken desks, in cupboards without glass panes. The stink and humidity overwhelms the senses. Only in the British Museum Library of London is there a better collection, all kept in mint condition. They respect our rich history. In terms of our own history, we are the wretched of the earth.
I do not know the daft former chief secretary who ordered this evil move. All I have learnt from officials inside the Secretariat, and I have no reason to doubt their opinion, that after retiring he sits on judgment on the fate of other bureaucrats. His antics, they claim, still reads like a mad hatter’s tea party. But then that is what our present rulers probably want. I leave his bizarre ways for younger journalists unearth.
My attention today is focused on the old official horse stable in Lahore’s Civil Secretariat and the damage done to our heritage. In any other sane society he would be arrested and tried. In his reign he got vacated the old world-famous library and record-room in General Allard’s old home, where once Lawrence, Kipling and Garrett studied and researched and produced books that will live forever. Small men need a lot of space; such is their ‘imagined greatness’. A spacious second conference hall and a new rest room emerged. The brown ‘sahib’ acted his part with a vengeance.
In wheel-barrows by the thousands went the world’s finest record, rare manuscripts, rare documents and books, even the first litho prints the world had ever seen from the year 1600 onwards. In heaps he got them stacked in the horse stable, throwing them on the floor to decay. Mind you I am talking about over 70,000 rare books and under a million documents and manuscripts, the world’s second largest collection after the British Museum Library. If you are shocked, I am not surprised, for you have no idea what the Punjab bureaucracy has morphed into. The brilliance of Hallard is a distant dream.
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