I went to meet Professor Ahmed Saleem at his home library. His house is in Judicial Town near Chhattar Park in a very picturesque setting at the foot of the hill with stream flowing near by. His library consists of his personal collection of over 45,000 books and a collection of newspapers since 1947 of Jang, Imroze, Pakistan Times etc. His room is next to the library and resembles more of a bed placed in a library room with a nearby desk-chair and a small sofa.
The library is divided into various sections. Sections on East Pakistan, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan had around six shelves each containing several thousands books. He has command over Punjabi (mother tongue), Pushto (grew up and did his early schooling in Peshawar), Sindhi (taught for around 5 years in Sindh University) and has a working knowledge of Balochi. There is a separate sections of Urdu literature (he taught for around 5 years at KU). There are additional sections on Iqbal, on feminist authors and their works. He also has a shelf filled with his own books. It contains a large number of research oriented works that he had produced as a researcher for SDPI, an NGO in blue area Islamabad with which he had been associated with over 20 years. He proudly showed me some precious collection of magazines and newspapers and documents dating to mid 19th century. There are valuable issues from over hundred years of monthly Ismat and Tehzeeb e Niswan.
I had gone there to collect articles by Mrs Altaf Husain Fatima Khatoon. She was the mother of my late father-in-law Ausaf Husain, and she was also my father’s second cousin. Apa Fatima Khatoon’s articles and poetry was published in monthly Ismat from 1950s till her death in 1983 under the name of Mrs Altaf Husain. I had around 50 articles and pieces written by her in Ismat that I got from my father’s collection. In researching about her I happened to meet Ms Safoora Khairi, the current managing editor of Ismat. She connected me to Prof Saleem. My objective was to see if I can get more articles from Prof Saleem’s collection.
I managed to get 20 more pieces by Mrs Altaf Husain from Prof Saleem’s library which has Ismat issues since its inception in 1908 by Allama Rashid ul Khairi till present. Prof Saleem has also published an index of all the articles published in Ismat from 1908 till 1947, a work that he got completed as part of the MPhil thesis of his student. The newly obtained articles when added with 50 that I have from my father’s collection are sizable enough that I am planning to publish in a book form (inshallah). While searching for these in Prof Saleem’s library, I managed a wonderful discussion with him on his associations with literati, their works and his learning from them.
He talked about his association with Ahmed Faraz while he was growing up in Peshawar, and his association with Faiz and his association with Ibn e Safi. He told how his parents would not allow him to read ibn e safi while he continued despite their punishments. He talked about his love for books and how he collects them. He said that he knows several second hand junk dealers. They call him whenever they get some old document that they think would be valuable for Prof Saleem.
He mentioned that he is planning to create more space by either moving on the second floor or obtaining a place nearby. There is a need for preparing a proper catalog of all the books and the need for more space for shelving. The books did not have that stuffy smell that comes in collections that are not properly exposed to sunlight and fresh air. Both these things were there. However, since his movement to this place in recent months, the books need to be properly shelved. Given his age and his recent operation, this appears to be a tall order. He said he would be getting some full time assistant as soon as there is more space for him to be seated. He has only a daughter who lives in Rawalpindi. There is a this treasure of books that needs a proper institution for preservation and access.
Anyhow, it was such a pleasure knowing and meeting him. You should all seek him out through his employer SDPI’s office in blue area. A treat to meet a knowledge encyclopedia like him.
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