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Archivist par excellence
By: Altaf Hussain Asad
Apart from nearly 45,000 books, including magazines, Ahmed Salim has in his collection complete files of some newspapers too.

Ahmad Salim is a multi-dimensional person. He has written Punjabi verse as well as a novel; he has edited countless books in both English and Urdu on literature, politics, social sciences and many other topics. He has also served in various newspapers and worked as a tireless translator to eke out his livelihood.

But there is another aspect of his life which nobody can afford to neglect. For the past more than forty years, he has been collecting books, magazines and old newspaper files. Naturally, he is in possession of a rich treasure of archives and research material on topics ranging from Urdu literature to politics, economics, history, and so on. Thus, he is perhaps the foremost archivist of our country who has helped scores of national as well international research scholars by providing them the necessary material.

Ahmad Salim’s treasure is housed in a rented six-room house in G sector of Islamabad these days. Earlier, it was located at Poonch Road Samanabad, Lahore. Since his job was in Islamabad, he could not maintain his collection so he had it transferred to Islamabad a few years ago.

Initially, he dumped his collection on the upper storey of his own house due to the paucity of funds. “Books, magazines and newspaper files needed a spacious room for their proper display. So, I rented a separate house for securing my collection. It’s almost impossible to bear the expenses but somehow I manage,” he says.

Apart from nearly 45,000 books (including magazines), he has in his collection complete files of newspapers, like Pakistan Times, Dawn, Mashriq, Viewpoint, Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan, and most of the files of Imroz, Lail-o-Nihar, etc. There is other precious material relating to the constitutional and political history of the country, such as the proceedings of the Punjab Assembly from 1921 to date, record of legislative assembly and also the records of the provincial assemblies of Pakistan. The list just goes on and on.

He has declined offers from international institutes that wanted to buy his entire lot because the ‘treasure must be in Pakistan for the benefit of Pakistani research scholars and students’.

His mammoth collection has attracted many scholars from abroad who have benefitted from his archives. Academics like Ayesha Jalal, Ian Talbot, Pippa Virdee, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, and Kamran Asdar Ali often consult his collection during their research endeavours.

A delegation of American Library of Congress visited and surveyed the entire collection and were simply thrilled to rummage through rare documents and material. Similarly, the International Institute of Social History, Holland collaborated with him for nearly eight years as they wanted some of the material related to South Asia in their library.

Salim is deeply concerned about his collection as he needs a permanent place to house the whole stuff. He set up South Asian Research and Resource Centre (SARRC) as a trust in 2003 to help facilitate research scholars. Their purpose was to build a full-fledged research centre with a building of its own. But he is yet to see his dream come true.

“I purchased a plot with the help of my friends to build a research centre at Bahria Islamabad. For five years, I have been waiting as the administration is not handing over the plot to me. So, I have to bear the expenses of a rented house for my collection,” he adds.

He has declined offers from international institutes that wanted to buy his entire lot because the ‘treasure must be in Pakistan for the benefit of Pakistani research scholars and students’. More than twenty five Ph.D students and countless M.Phil students completed their dissertations by banking on the collection.

A Ph.D student has to pay a nominal fee per annum to use the resource library. At times, various political figures promised to help him with a building but nothing has materialised so far. “I have requested various governments to allot me a plot on subsidised rate for my library. But nobody cares at all. They can give millions of rupees to cricketers but are least interested in supporting scholarly endeavours,” he complains.

Salim is determined to run his research library against all odds by spending money from his own pocket.  He is trying to make a complete catalogue of his collection so that visiting students and scholars could use the library more effectively.


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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.