City Library – Abdul Sattar’s Books, Pahari Imli
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One evening, The Delhi Walla knocks on the door of Abdul Sattar. In his sixties, Mr Sattar lives with two of his four children in Pahari Imli, a Walled City neighbourhood. The biggest room of his house is stacked with books. “This is my library,” he says. “I was born in this room. Here I read, eat, write and sleep.”
The library has a mattress, a desk, a wooden almirah, a desktop computer, a TV, a few closets and 600 books. “Most are in Urdu and Persian and most of them are on Delhi’s Mughal-era history,” says Mr Sattar. “I usually purchase my books from publishers though I have got a few old volumes from dealers of second-hand books.”
Waving towards a shelf of paperbacks, he says, “These came from the Urdu Academy.”
The lone window of Mr Sattar’s library looks to the neighbour’s roof. A boy is flying a kite.
Handing me a bulky brown hardbound, he says, “Pashanama deals with the reign of (Mughal emperor) Shahjahan. It was compiled by Abdul Hamid Lahori. This is the second volume. I’m still looking for the first.”
Mr Sattar, who retired from government service in 2005, has an extremely gentle voice. He speaks slowly and appears to deliberate a great deal in choosing the most suitable words to frame his sentences.
“Three years ago I started working on a book on Madarsa Ghaziauddin Khan… it was an Islamic seminary near Ajmeri Gate and now exists as a school… the book may take a few more years to finish. I’m not getting the material I’m looking for.”
Mr Sattar leaves his house only to visit public libraries to research on his book.
Opening a drawer and taking out a wooden box filled with old ink pens, he says, “They are very expensive.” Closing the lid with caution, he says, “After my death, my children will inherit my collection of pens. But my books… I have already drafted my will. After my death, my books will be donated to a library.”
“Why are you not giving them to your children?” I ask.
“They can read in English and Hindi but not in Urdu.”
One of the most precious items in Mr Sattar’s library is a Mughal-era map of Old Delhi. Unrolling it on the floor, he places his finger on a black circle and says, “We are here.”
He then go towards his bed and takes out a tattered red book from under a blue pillow. “This is my wedding album.”
Showing his wife’s photo, he says, “We married in 1975. Actually I was happy in my world of books and did not want to marry but my mother forced me… this is Shamim Begum, my wife. We went to Kashmir for honeymoon.”
“Did she like reading?” I ask.
“Shamim Begum was busy taking care of our household… since she was particular about cleanliness, she would get irritated by my habit of leaving books and papers all over the place. She got upset each time I came home with yet more books. She died in 1995. Her blood pressure suddenly went down… now I’m left with what she wanted to get rid of… ”
“And what is that?” I ask.
Living with books