Tryst with History Books

Like many others of my generation, I was born, and grew up in a society with a strong oral storytelling tradition.
Tryst with History Books
Representational Photo

Like many others of my generation, I was born, and grew up in a society with a strong oral storytelling tradition.  Through this tradition only, I learnt, at my home, on the barber's shop and in the salubrious environs of the grand mosque, under canopy of a six hundred year old majestic Chinars, lots of stories about our immediate past. The stories about the protagonists of the movement, and their top lieutenants aroused curiosity in me to know more about them; and thus read some books.    

There were lots of books in the attic of our house mostly published in Lahore, and some published by famous bookseller of the town – Ghulam Mohammad Noor Mohammad- and perhaps the only publisher during the forties.  For fear of sleuths and ruthless snoops after 1948, a lot of literature about the movement led by the Muslim Conference had been dumped in a wooden box in the attic. Couple of times, I rummaged through this wooden box for books on the Muslim Conference and old copies of newspapers like Islam, Hurriyat and Jamhoor. But, I found none.  Perhaps, during the harassing times after December 1947, out of fright someone in family had made a bonfire of this great archive.

Our school was one of the best in the city. It outshone all schools – in band, sports and theatre- but amazingly there was no library for the students. The reason for this, perhaps was that teachers then did not encourage students for extra-reading, and wanted them to remain focussed on textbooks. And when I joined college, it was just four to five years old. The college library in ground floor spreading over two halls had books on science, commerce, management and on English literature.   Nonetheless, there were no books on Kashmir in the library. Only one Almirah marked as Urdu section attracted my attention. I remember, the first book, I borrowed from this section was a voluminous book titled 'Mohammad Ali Jinnah' by Rais Ahmed Jafari. It might have taken me about ten days to read this book, cover to cover. In fact, the book was my first major introduction to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indian Freedom Struggle and the birth to Pakistan.  For number of years, it was the only book, I had read on a great leader of 'indomitable will' 'who looms in history as a lofty minaret.'  

One day, I approached the librarian. He resembled Greeks because of his fair complexion and sea-blue eyes. But, his wooden face kept students away from making any inquires.  Exhibiting courage, I enquired from him, where from I could get books on Kashmir. And what books, should I read on the subject. He could not recommend me any books but suggested me to become member of the Government Library, Lal Mandi, or visit nearby Gani Memorial library. Getting membership for the government library was a cumbersome process – you needed a gazetted officer as guarantor. 

Playing truant, one day I left college and visited the Gani Memorial reading room housed in a dilapidated building supposed to have been the house of Gani Kashmiri – the great Persian poet of Kashmir. There was no librarian, it was under supervision of a library bearer. Nonetheless, the dark and dingy rooms of the library were no less than treasure trove for me. The bearer of the library emerged as first guide on Kashmir for me, when he loaned two book 'Inside Kashmir" and 'Struggle For Freedom in Kashmir' by  Prem Nath Bazaz.          

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