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.
Next let me tell you of a rare document that once lay in the record of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It is the 1616 original litho print, among the first of two left in the world, of Sir Thomas Roe. It is an original, and in Lahore original rarities lie on the floor. The only other version in the world is in the British Museum Library in a nitrogen-filled glass casing, a rare manuscript that the British are proud of. In Lahore such rarities lie in heaps, only to be picked up and put on a table by an enlightened public servant. Beyond that he dare not. Honesty brings no laurels.
The original record of the Bhagat Singh incident, known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, also is in this collection. Among the books are the original prints of all the great masters of Punjab, which once included Delhi and Kabul. Just run your mind from the year 1600 to 2000, a full 400 years of rich heritage, a collection of the Mughals, the Afghan rulers, the Sikhs, the British and the finest record of the early Pakistan years, and all you can see of this glorious period lies on the floors of the dark main halls and verandahs. Our retired bureaucrat ordered a huge bathroom to be built in the middle of the horse stable, one last stab at immortality which adds to the stench.
The roof of the main hall collapsed just six months ago, and given the way bureaucracy runs in Punjab, funds for the roof’s repair were denied. The rain did the rest. A deft educated bureaucrat of another department spared funds from another project to erect a makeshift roof. But then it is a matter of time before it gives way and we will have a massive deluge, which will, all things going the way they are, produce a massive killing field of the finest collection of rare books, documents and manuscript the world has ever seen.
Tucked away in the heaps are the rare manuscripts of letters from royalty and rulers of the world over 400 years to the various rulers of Lahore. There is an array of secret documents about the hundreds and thousands of happenings in Punjab and its neighbourhood over the centuries. This is a researcher’s goldmine. The original record of the entire 1857 Uprising (War of Independence) is there. Mind you Lahore was the epicenter from where was controlled the fight for Delhi. This is a world original that not even the British have. Our khaki rulers demolished the historic ‘1851 Barrack’ which was the operations headquarters to make way for housing plots. Who dare challenge their intellect?
Mind you among the record are even older manuscripts, one almost 1,000 years ago which, in Sanskrit, records the invasion feared from the ‘looting Afghans who know no morals’. Excuse me, morals. That concept died a thousand years ago. In any other country all this would need 20 massive libraries the size of the Quaid-e-Azam Library, built by the British, to hold. Mind you these foreigners – the British – left behind almost 900 libraries in Punjab, of which only 179 remain. Who needs libraries now?