Last testament to Indian freedom fighter overhauled

Lala Lajpat Rai Library in Jhelum has been restored by community members


Qaiser Sherazi March 17, 2020
A view of the library named after Lala Lajpat Rai in Jhelum restored by community members. PHOTO: EXPRESS

RAWALPINDI: Beyond some of the household names such as Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Allama Iqbal, Liaquat Ali Khan, Nawab Mohsinul Mulk and others, many other leaders who played their part in the struggle against the colonial rule. Many of these critical, yet unsung leaders have largely been forgotten but legacies of some exist in the form of either monuments or institutions created in their honour.

One such institution exists in Jhelum which has recently been restored to its glory through the philanthropic contributions of local community members.

The institution in question is the 84-year-old Lala Lajpat Rai library in Jhelum.

The library was created to honour the memory of the Indian independence movement leader. His writings, particularly the newspaper he founded — the Arya Gazette from Lahore — is said to have inspired other freedom fighters such as Chandrashekar Azad and Bhagat Singh.

Nearly eight years after Rai’s death, the library was inaugurated by renowned Indian Civil Service bureaucrat Dr Goupi Chand on May 3, 1936.

Later, one of Rai’s two sons had a new, well-ventilated hall built in the library in commemoration of his father. Its shelves housed hundreds of books, dating back to the early periods of the 19th century.

However, after the partition, the heirs of the library owner migrated to India. This meant that the ownership and administration of the library fell to the local Auqaf department.

This once-famous library, though, slowly fell victim to the government’s and public negligence and it became a shelter for insects and animals. Bereft of frequent human presence, it started to resemble a haunted house.

However, owing to the diligent efforts of some community members including Dr Asad Mirza, Sagheer Ikhlaq, Dr Tariq, Akhtar Nawaz, and Mehr Abdul Raheem, the library was renovated, its descript walls were given a fresh lick of paint and its halls were cleaned up. The Auqaf department also assisted the community members in the Rs10.2 million restoration process.

Meanwhile, the library's management has also decided to purchase some new books to replenish the repository. They further plan to digitally record some of the rare manuscripts stored there.

Community members, who contributed to the restoration of the library said that they will soon install some air-conditioners, fans and water coolers in the library to facilitate book enthusiasts, scholars and students who wish to use the library, especially during the warm summer months.

This is the last monument of Lala Lajpat Rai left in Pakistan after a statue in his honour erected in Lahore was shifted to a square in Shimla.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2020.

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