Lahore, Hali and Quaid-i-Azam Library

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Rauf Parekh

It is believed that Peshawar had been inhabited as early as in 400 years BC, which makes it the oldest Pakistani city continuously inhabited. Lahore is a city about 1000 years old. But what makes Lahore Pakistan’s cultural capital is not only its history and historical buildings, though they add much to its grandeur.

Lahore has been a centre of Urdu’s printing and publishing since 19th century. Even today, it is often claimed, almost 75 per cent of Urdu books published in Pakistan come from Lahore.

Lahore attracted intellectuals even in the past, as is evident from the fact that Muhammad Hussain Azad (1830-1910) and Altaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914), two of the towering figures of the 19th century Urdu literature, launched their campaign for a new poetics and modern Urdu poem in Lahore in 1874.

Azad had settled down in Lahore, taught at Government College and Oriental College — two eminent educational institutions — and was buried in Lahore when he died there in 1910.

Though Hali could not settle in Lahore due to ill health and had to go back to Delhi, he served for quite some time at Punjab Government Book Depot. Hali also worked as assistant editor of ‘Ataaleeq-i-Punjab’, a monthly published by Punjab Education Department in those days. Another prominent institution that Hali worked for is Lahore’s Aitchison College.

The fact that Hali had worked for Aitchison College is little known and most of Hali’s biographers have not given the details, even if they have been able to mention it at all.

Dr Zahid Muneer Aamir deliberated on Hali’s brief stint at Aitchison College in his research paper that he read out at the seminar organised on Hali’s centennial death anniversary.

Lahore’s Quaid-i-Azam Library (QAL) had organised the seminar on its premises. Dr Aamir’s paper offered some new insight into Hali’s stay at Lahore between 1872 and 1874. It was, perhaps, the pick of the papers presented at the seminar.

Some of the other papers, too, were much appreciated. Among them were papers by Dr Tehseen Firaqi, Dr Moinuddin Aqeel, Muhammad Ikram Chaghatai, Dr Khwaja Muhammad Zakaria, Abdul Hakeem Baloch, Inayatullah, Dr Nazeer Tabassum, Dr Tabassum Kashmiri, Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar and Dr Ziaul Hasan. Dr Zakaria in his keynote address highlighted certain aspects of Hali’s life and poetry. Dr Firaqi deliberated on Hali’s role in awakening political awareness among the Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent.

Moinuddin Aqeel and Ikram Chaghatai discussed some new and important research works on Hali and mentioned some new bibliographical works on Hali. Dr Tabassum Kashmiri stressed the aspects of Hali’s poetry that highlight his approach towards progressivism. Dr Tabassum’s paper was on the art of biography and biographies written by Hali.

Dr Ziaul Hasan was of the view that “while we cannot say that Iqbal composed poetry after reading Hali’s criticism of ghazal, Iqbal’s poetry conforms to the standards set by Hali”.

Dr Nayyar discussed Hali’s poetry against the backdrop of Macaulay’s views and the colonial mindset. He said Hali’s views were the reflection of that colonial mindset. Dr Muhammad Kamran, while conducting the programme, recited some select verses of Hali’s.

Dr Zaheer Ahmed Babar, the director general of QAL and the driving spirit behind the event, intends to publish all the papers presented at the seminar in the next issue of ‘Makhzan’, a literary magazine published regularly by the library.

Meeting Dr Babar was a pleasant surprise. He is neither the stiff-necked bureaucrat nor the grumpy librarian we usually come across in government offices and public libraries.

On the contrary, he is a scholar himself and a bibliophile. Aside from making available to the scholars and students over 150, 000 books, magazines and other articles that the imposing QAL building holds, Dr Babar strives to collect as much material for the library as possible on Pakistan, either written in favour of or against Pakistan.

Currently, he is working on a project to procure all the research dissertations written on Pakistan during the last 10 years all over the word and he has already collected many invaluable pieces. One hopes a catalogue of such material will also be published or be made available at library’s website.

The library offers a very conducive atmosphere to researchers and, according to Dr Babar, the installation of solar panels at its premises has made it completely ‘loadshedding-free’.

Dr Babar informed this writer that the library holds some very rare and historic works. The building of the library itself is historic. Constructed in the 1860s, the building initially consisted of two large halls called Lawrence Hall and Montgomery Hall.

In those days, the building was used as a club and venue for social gatherings. It later came to be known as Lahore Gymkhana. In 1984, it was turned into the library and named after the father of the nation.

The sprawling Lawrence Gardens around the Library, which initially spread over 100 acres, still serve as perfect serene background. It has been renamed as Bagh-i-Jinnah. One of the reading halls at the Library, with a profusely painted ceiling, is also called Jinnah Hall.

Rauf Parekh, “Lahore, Hali and Quaid-i-Azam Library ,” in Dawn, March 30, 2015. Accessed on March 30, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on March 30, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 30, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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