The making of the rare library

Print edition : September 30, 2000

THE Sundarayya Vignana Kendram (SVK) was established in 1988 in memory of P. Sundarayya, the Communist stalwart and popular hero of the Telengana peasant uprising in the 1940s. It is managed by a registered non-profit trust. Although the Andhra Pradesh g overnment donated the land for housing the Kendram, the entire construction cost of Rs.1 crore was met from public donations. A public research facility, the SVK, seeks to promote studies on the socio-economic and cultural aspects of Indian society, and scientific theories of socialism, democracy and other schools of thought. In keeping with the popular image of Sundarayya, the SVK also promotes studies on popular movements, political parties and organisations. On an average, about 400 people visit the library's reading room every day, and about 300 scholars and teachers have joined the Kendram as members.

The Research Library has a collection of rare books, journals, newspapers, reports, pamphlets, manuscripts, private papers and other material in various languages. It has a particularly rich collection of resource material in Telugu and English on the so cio-cultural, economic and political histories of and popular social movements in central India between the 12th and 20th centuries.

The inspiration to initiate a Telugu collection came from Sundarayya's personal collection of more than 10,000 books, in addition to his private papers running to more than one lakh pages, considered to be invaluable historical material. Sundarayya had c ollected publications from the 19th and 20th centuries on a range of subjects. This provided the basis for the establishment of the Research Library.

The library also has the personal collections of Arudra, a progressive Telugu writer and intellectual, and Dasarathi, another writer. The collections of these two literary figures are rich in the Prabandha kayas, literary criticism and writings on the Bhakthi movement in the Deccan, in particular the creative writings of the followers of Veerasaiva and Vaishnava religious reform movements from the 13th century. The library also has a rich collection of Dalit literature in Telugu. It is said that the library has almost all the Telugu publications of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Urdu collections have a moving story behind them. Abdus Samad Khan, a car mechanic and a lover of books, despite his meagre resources, had collected a significant number of books in Urdu. In an interview to the BBC in 1975, Samad Khan said that for s ix days a week he would be at his garage but on the seventh day he would travel around the city collecting books and magazines. Between 1963 and 1975, he had collected 7,000 books, 32,000 magazines, 500 manuscripts, 200 travelogues, 200 to 250 texts of U rdu prose, 50 dictionaries and numerous pamphlets. Among the collections were 125 special issues of magazines on Ghalib and almost an equal number on the poet Iqbal. Samad Khan started collecting books as a schoolboy in Delhi, and later turned his collec tion into the URC. He indicated to the BBC that already fatigue had set in. After a period of closure, the URC started functioning again in 1987.

In 1996, James Nye was involved in the negotiations to purchase Samad Khan's collection on behalf of the Urdu Research Library Consortium (URLC). (Earlier Nye was involved in the execution of the project to preserve the Tamil collections at the Roja Muth iah Research Library in Chennai.) Samad Khan was paid $50,000 by the URLC for the URC collection. In mid-1996, the URC shifted to the SVK.

Samad Khan's collections include 26,500 monographs, works on historical subjects ranging from the Qutb Shahi dynasty and the rule of the Nizams (including government gazettes, court records and histories of official service) to the condition and social c ustoms of Muslims in India and Partition. There are about 2,000 titles in this section at the Centre. The URC has about 12,000 titles detailing the development of the Urdu language - the tazkiras (Urdu prose), grammar and phonetics and more than 2,500 vo lumes on poetry. It also includes 4,000 titles on religious subjects (among them are Urdu tracts on Hinduism, Jainism and Christianity) and 2,000 biographies and autobiographies.

The URC's collection of periodicals, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, is considered to be the finest in South Asia. More than 60,000 journals and newspapers, including Sahifah, the first newspaper published from Hyderabad in Urdu and Persian, are found in this section.

The SVK is a partner in the Digital South Asia Library project, a global collaborative effort aimed at providing wider international access to rare historical resources. The SVK is only one of three Indian institutions involved in this international vent ure which includes some of the best universities in the world.

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