City Library – A Rare Family Bible in Urdu, Pahari Imli
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some books are like family heirlooms passed down from one generation to another. And then they get lost and are washed ashore on some other coast.
Such is the case with a tattered hardbound volume in Abdul Sattar’s custody. An elderly scholar living in Old Delhi’s Pahari Imli, he recently came into the possession of a book with handwritten recordings of a family’s most private moments — deaths, births and weddings.
The book is an old copy of the Bible… in Urdu. “A nephew acquired it in Punjab and gifted it to me,” says Mr Sattar, gently lifting the exquisitely carved old wooden box inside which the book lies. The box itself deserves a museum. The top is fitted with a folded reading stand, the kind on which one usually reads sacred volumes such as the Quran or the Upanishads.
Pointing to a text on the corner of a page, Mr Sattar concludes “it was produced by a publisher at Anarkali Bazaar in post-Partition Lahore… but see, here it says in English that the book was actually printed in Great Britain in 1949!”
The first blank page on the Bible has jottings in English such as:
Mother died on 26.8.1970
Marriage of Sarah 11.2.1919
And immediately below:
Sarah died 5 Nov 1958
Another page has a much longer list detailing the deaths of a number of people, including the cities in which they breathed their last: Ambala, Lahore, Ludhiana, Simla, Chandigarh and more.
The book could not have found a more suitable home than Mr Sattar’s library, which includes a rare illustrated edition of Ghalib’s complete poetry. “I shall look after the Bible with affection,” says the scholar.
A careful reading of the jottings reveal that the family which owned this Bible managed to thrive both in India and Pakistan. For instance, on 29 April 1993, a certain Ammiji died in Lahore, while on 30 June 1995, somebody named Seema was buried in Delhi. This turns out to be the book’s final entry when still with its original owners.
Bible as a family heirloom