Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Running the Achieves

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My first encounter with the Punjab Archives was about 20 years ago. Located in an 18th century tomb inside the provincial secretariat, the premises - even in those far more peaceful days - was of difficult access. But having gained access and inside the cool, high-domed interior, I was completely awed by what was on display. There was yet more substantial historical matter to be had from the coffers not open to direct reach.

The staff was helpful in that they got me a cup of extra-sweet tepid tea while I looked through the catalogue. I asked for some documents going back to the 1840s. More tea was ordered as the peons hurried around with exaggerated displays of activity. This was the procedure with each insistence of seeing anything beyond the catalogue. After my fifth or so demand to see the material, the Chief Moron of the Punjab Archives invited me to his desk.

There, from behind the finger tepee that all fools erect to appear sagacious, he very gravely informed me that the material I sought was top secret and therefore beyond access. The man had never heard of the 30-year declassification rule and sat coiled like the proverbial snake over a treasure of information going back a century and a half.

Thereafter everything else I wanted to see was also top secret. I left the building in disgust.

In 2002, a young researcher visited Lahore from Delhi. She had permission from some top government person to consult the archives. Wishing her Godspeed at the gate of the secretariat, I told her she was soon to be gravely disappointed.

Later that day and for two more days she could only count the number of cups of extra-sweet lukewarm tea. She was sweet-talked out of every demand for material and she returned to India frustrated.

I visited the Archives Department in 2004 for the last time. Now, only for some fun. Sure enough, files from more than a century ago were still secret and inaccessible. Recently I was told writer William Dalrymple got free run of the archives.

Last week in Karachi I phoned Roshan Kanasro who heads the Sindh Archives Department. He welcomed me as only a Sindhi could! I was introduced to Ravinder Bhatia who first of all gave me a tour of the entire complex. Incidentally, the Sindh Archives are housed not inside the secretariat where few can enter unhindered, but in a separated custom-built building in Clifton. What the good Ravinder and his assistants are doing for the acquisition of priceless historical record is far too lengthy for this piece. Suffice it to say that here was a bunch of the most dedicated, committed and properly trained personnel acquiring, cleaning, preserving, restoring, digitising and binding written material from the early 19th century to more recent times. And, surprisingly for government employees, all of them were proud of their work.

After the tour, I was ushered to a room where the material was racked. There young Akash Datwani took me into his fold. All I had to do was say what I needed and he produced the material. Then - and I wish someone would tell this not just to the morons of Punjab Archives but all other Pakistani librarians too - Akash kept piling more and more material on me. All this without ever being coaxed a second time. It was his job and he was doing it willingly and cheerfully.

This was just like being at any research facility in the West where the staff assist visitors as a matter of routine. In Karachi, I had been referred to Roshan Kanasro by a young civil servant friend in Grade 18; in Lahore those many years ago, my reference was the Secretary Implementation and Coordination in Grade 20! I had suggested to the Secretary I&C that a building be acquired outside the forbidding secretariat to house the Punjab Archives. And then, I had said, the staff be educated in the purpose of having the archives. I was foolish to expect anything from this secretary who has since fled to the West.

One wonders where the Sindhis learned how to do it right.

Related: The Royal Geographical Society  

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 12 January 2017 at 11:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

70 years since the limeys left but they still have a free run of the subcontinent (i.e. free run of the archives) Power of the goras

At 13 January 2017 at 04:48, Blogger LoneWolf INTJ said...

Salman Rashid, don't bother to wonder how the Sindhis learnt how to it right. Based on personal experience of working with almost all the ethnic groups, people from Sindh and Balochistan are the most welcoming, cordial and cooperative bunch when dealing with strangers. On top of that, both ethnic groups also feel pride in their historical roots, culture and heritage way much more than the Punjabis.

At 21 January 2017 at 10:27, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Truly spoken, Lone Wolf. I have always acknowledged this fact in my writings.

At 21 January 2017 at 10:33, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Anonymous, Goras are god for us.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days