Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty writes about an impressive community effort that preserves rare books in Urdu, Persian and Arabic
Quraishi comes to the library every day at 10 a.m. other than Sundays. “But if you really want to see the crowd here, come at night, between 10 and 11 p.m. This is the only library in Delhi that is open so late,” he says, a streak of pride sneaking into the tone.
So who are its users? “Because we have some of the rarest books in Urdu, Persian and Arabic, we get a lot of research scholars from universities across the world. They usually come during the day. At night, most people come from around the area to read old books, also newspapers and magazines,” he fills in.
Naem takes you to 1987 to relate the idea behind the effort, when communal disturbances in Old Delhi led to a curfew for four days. Once the curfew was lifted, we met as usual at my place and told each other, ‘Lets do something that people will remember us for’.” They zeroed in on collecting old books, creating a community space where people could come to read a book, a newspaper, meet each other. They named it after Shah Waliullah, the Islamic scholar who first translated the Quran to Urdu.
This enthusiastic bunch of 16 young people first brought books from their homes. “We then went around asking people to donate old books, even visited U.P. towns looking for them. On Sundays, we would go to Nai Sarak, rummage through the old books,” he fills in. The pile got bigger and better. Today, this one-room library hosts about 20,000 rare and out-of-print books in Urdu, Arabic, Persian, besides some in Hindi and English.