City Libraries – Reading Room in Marwari Lines

Karachi’s lost tradition of Reading rooms. You can perhaps count remaining few in Karachi on fingertips. However Mir Muhammad Baloch Progressive Academy reading room is one vibrant community space in the heart of Marwari Lines.

I find Ali Akbar, caretaker and librarian basking in winter sun outside the small reading room. He takes pride in his association with the reading room which has a small collection of urdu literature but a long history of association with literary giants of the country. The Reading room has been in operation due to generosity of Lala Muhammad Hussain Baloch, a philanthropist and resident of the area who has given the space for reading room. As we step inside I notice Faiz and Alys Faiz’s photos with him. The reading room has been named after Lala Hussain’s grand father, Mir Muhammad Baloch, a salawat originally who was given honorary title of ‘Baloch’ for his services to Balouchs and people of Lyari.

Ali explains that the reading room has been operational since 1964 but sometime back a separate library was setup for women in the same area and all of the books were transferred there. What we see in the reading room today is new collection which was bought at later stages. Nonetheless the reading room has been frequented mainly for newspaper reading and community activities. I strike conversation with people around me and I find fascinating and knowledgeable characters. Iqbal Farid, who lives nearby tells me that Habib Jalib often came to the reading room and used to get his shave from a barber in the street. Kaifi Azmi, famous poet visited the place during his visits to Pakistan also. Dr Zain who runs a clinic nearby remembers Kaifi Azimi getting amused at finding some first edition of his poems which have gone out of print. Nasir Naushad who is there to read newspaper tells me that Ibn-Insha was another of literary giants who have been to the reading room.

Someone orders tea. The conversations continue. There is a strong sense of community in Salawats and I could see several community initiatives out in the street, from reading rooms to dispensaries. I see an announcement of a debate on the notice board and people at the reading room tell me that people from all communities attend such sessions.

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Categories: City Libraries

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