Hazrat Shah Waliullah Library was started on March 21, 1994 by our NGO Delhi Youth Welfare Association, of which I am the president. Our library has around 25,000 books. It boasts a collection of some of the rarest books, some of which are even 600 or more years old, written in Urdu, Persian and Arabic.
The most precious possession of our library is an old book of poetry — written by the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar in the year 1852. It was printed in the emperor’s presence at the Royal Press inside Red Fort.
This library is a storehouse of old books like Bhagvat Gita, a 103-year-old dictionary and many more. We, the members of DYWA, are running the library all by ourselves.
Not only locals, we have readers from countries like Sweden and England, among others. We have research scholars from across the world like University of Columbia, as readers. Also, to make these rare books available to a wider audience, we want to digitise these books.
Our main problem is that the library is quite small. Thus, we are unable to accommodate all the books or display our varied collection. Only 50% of our books are kept here. What we need is to set up this library at a place where we will be able to showcase our vast collection. Also, we want to set up coaching classes and computer training classes, if given the space.
There was a free space in our area, near Sitaram Bazaar. We wanted to set up our library there. We approached the then MP Kapil Sibal, who even visited our library twice with his wife. But still we couldn’t get the space. It was given to set up a school, along with a library in the same building. But the library they run in that area contains mostly Punjabi and Hindi books. In any area like Old Delhi, the residents are mostly inclined towards reading Urdu and sometimes even Hindi. But Punjabi books are not read here. Also, the library remains mostly closed. If we were given the space, we could have used it well.
Local politicians here didn’t cooperate much. Because we are loved by the public and the library has a legacy of its own, politicians have refrained from helping us or supporting us. We (the 34-member NGO) have been running the library for 24 years now — from financial support to maintenance work — all is done by us. The library has been kept alive because of our effort. Also, we don’t charge our readers — it is free of cost. Thus, to keep our work going we would like the government to grant us space so that we can make it bigger and better. But don’t know when our requests will be granted.
Muhammad Naaem, 54, a resident of Old Delhi, is a businessman with a keen interest in social work
— As told to Shruti Das