‘Horse stable archives’ and the latest promise to a gullible Lahore

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Mar 29, 2015

The historic Punjab Archives, the second largest collection in the world on the province after the British Museum Library, continues to exist in the former horse stable at the back of the Civil Secretariat. If anything has shamed our rulers, it is this act that has gone unpunished, let alone unnoticed.

It’s been a while since this scandal was exposed. The secretary of archives himself had shown the archives to the writer. On his table lay a letter from Mirza Ghalib to the East India Company seeking restoration of his pension after the events of 1857 had virtually destroyed the Delhi of old and its traditions. This letter was found on the floor of the stable. Then there were rare agreements, books, documents, not to speak of rare records that lay in stacks on the wet floor.

A portion of the archives had been carted to this place after a former chief secretary wanted to expand his office and add a restroom, a dining hall and a meeting hall. Others were collected from other buildings and carted to the old leaking horse stable where a new bathroom for staff had been added and from where water leaked into the stable. My sources tell me that after the recent spate of rains, a ‘caring’ bureaucrat went to see the archives and was shocked at the condition. Things had gone from bad to worse. He informed the chief secretary, who informed the chief minister, who perhaps fearing a bigger scandal announced a new ‘state-of-the-art’ archives building.

Amazingly, when the archives scandal broke, the top archives official in a press conference announced that the government had its eyes on an eight-kanal plot opposite the Lahore Gymkhana, and that sanction for it was pending. That managed to keep the editors quiet. I am a fan of the TV serial ‘Yes Minister’, but this was a step ahead of those wily British bureaucrats.

Not to be fooled, this correspondent quietly went to meet the ‘patwari’ of the promised land on The Mall. He sits in the corridors of the courts in the cantonment’s Saddar Bazaar. It turned out that the professed land, on the northern side of the Zafar Ali Road canal and opposite the residence of the Rangers director general, was once part of the house in which once lived the military secretary to the governor and that the house was under litigation in high courts, and that a former judge had allotted the land to another ‘patwari’. The government had opposed the claim but had lost. They have appealed and the matter is still in court, with the ‘patwari’ still in possession.

Now that the rains have had a dramatic damaging effect on the archives, the government has promised to build an archives building where today exists the car park of the Tollinton Market at the other end of The Mall. This is a move that promises to meet the opposition of the lobby who managed to save this old market in the first place.

But then it might even turn out to be a very good idea – that is if it was a real one, of which most observers surely have serious doubts. It goes without saying that this ‘cover-up’ announcement will be denied. But then there is also this ‘cloud cuckoo land’ plan of converting the entire Old Anarkali area, the Civil Secretariat included, into a massive educational city. Amazing, and where will the money for this dream come from? Goebbels must be eating a humble pie.

But if this archives building announcement is honest, have they planned where the car park will be located, for it will then serve the Lahore Museum, the Tollinton Market and also the new archives building? It would not be a bad idea to include the old market into the building plan, for this could serve as reading rooms of the archives collection. But then a massive parking complex must be part of it. What is needed is ‘total planning’.

It would be even better if the Lahore Museum was expanded, after closing the road in between, and the planners went for one grand museum-archives complex. Sounds great and Lahore will be richer if this happens. The point is: will this ever happen? My view remains that this is an amazing cover-up story to prevent the fallout of a national disaster that has already happened. If I am wrong, I will be the happiest man in Lahore.



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