The archivist
Ahmad Salim’s greatest wish is for his extensive library to be saved
By Altaf Hussain Asad

Ahmad Salim - The Archivist The news 22-Jul-2012

Ahmad Salim – The Archivist in The News 22-Jul-2012

He seems as agile as he used to be. As usual, one can see him carrying with him a bag full of books in different functions in the capital city of Islamabad. There is hardly any trace of nervousness and worry on his face. When you are suffering from cancer, you are bound to get bogged down. Not if you are Ahmed Salim who shows extraordinary resilience in the face of lots of odds.

Writer, editor, Punjabi poet and novelist, and archivist, Ahmad Salim wears many hats. For the past many years, his rich archives have helped many a local as well as foreign scholars working on myriad subjects. It took him nearly forty years to collect this huge archive which is a real treasure which can guide upcoming research scholars. First, he arranged the archives at Samanabad Lahore in a rented house. Since he was based in Islamabad, it was difficult for him to look after the precious record properly. So, he shifted it in a rented house in Islamabad but it was difficult to bear the exorbitant rent for so long.

“It was getting very difficult for me to bear the rent of a separate house where my archives was arranged. I am diagnosed with cancer and the treatment is quite costly. I am not least worried about my health as my only concern is about the archives and rare books that I have collected over the years. So I have decided to dump all the record, books and other material on the upper portion of my house,” says Salim.

The record, archives and rare books have occupied four rooms and he has tried his best to arrange them properly. However, he says, all the material can be properly arranged only in eight rooms. Recently, a delegation of Library of Congress visited him to see the whole material. The delegation was amazed to see such precious record and rare books and confessed that some of the rare books are can’t be found in any library of Europe. The American Institute of Pakistan Studies have also surveyed the library and archives as they want to help by arranging a librarian. He has been offered hefty amount by few foreign institutions who want to buy all the archives and rare books but Ahmad Salim has declined all such offers. “This archive and other rare material belong to this country and I won’t like shifting it to any other country. Yes, I have had a few offers but I politely declined. It is my wish that it remains in my country.”

Talking about the rare record and books, Ahmad Salim says, “We have all the proceedings of Punjab Assembly from 1921 to date; all the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly and then all the record of provincial assemblies of Pakistan from 1947 to date; all Five Years Plans, Budget Records and files of important papers like Pakistan Times, Dawn, Viewpoint, Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan are also there in the archives. Files of Imroz and Lail-o-Nihar from 1961 onwards are also there. There are special sections on Punjab, Sindh, KPK, Balochistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh. There are government reports of various commissions as well as all the reports of HRCP and other such material.”

Apart from this, one can see many periodicals of 18th and 19th century such as India Review and other very rare material of the colonial era. The files of Paisa Akhbar, Rahbar-e-Hind and much such rare treasure can be noticed in the four rooms in which he has crammed all his archives. “There are almost ten thousand rare books which can not be found anywhere in the world,” claims Ahmad Salim.

He lashes out hard at the Federal Government and the other provincial governments which have shown least interest in saving this historical rare treasure. “The apathy of government knows no bounds as they haven’t shown even an iota of interest in saving the treasure. Many a time, the government functionaries have promised to do something for the archives but to no avail. Even the information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, through a mutual friend, promised to help but nothing came out of it. All I demand from the government is that it should offer me a one kanal land on subsidised rate. I am not seeking alms from the government. I want that my precious record should be properly displayed and saved after I close my eyes.”

However, he adds, there are few individuals and NGOs which greatly helped him in these trying times. He is particularly thankful to Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) which is still paying him his salary, although he is unable to go to office due to his ailment. He says he is indebted to Abid Sulehri for his all out support. Afzaal Ahmad of Sang-e-Meel Publications and human rights activist Fauzia Saeed are also helping him a lot.

His archives and library is registered trust and there are nine trustees. At an individual level, a few people are trying a work out a strategy to save the archives. “I am grateful to Dr Nadeem Omar who is very active in saving the archives. Dr Anwar Nasir of Readings also intends to help me,” he concludes.