In Quetta, an abandoned hospital turns into a library

In Quetta, an abandoned hospital turns into a library
Every day, on his way to his Balochistan University, Bismillah Khan would pause outside the gates of the Benazir Bhutto Hospital on Sariab Road.

Correspondent: Rasheed Baloach

The empty shell of the abandoned health-care facility called out to the political science student. Bismillah would wonder what the place could be used for. One day, the inkling of an idea came to his mind. The eerie halls could become a library. Convinced that he could establish one with the help of his friends, Bismillah, a self-confessed book lover, set about claiming a space that the government had given up upon.

And thus the idea for the Lore-Karez Sariab Road Library was born.

Outside of Balochistan, Quetta’s Sariab Road is known only for being the site of multiple blasts and target killings. This important thoroughfare that connects Balochistan University, Wapda Colony, Shahwani and Kechi Baig has seen blood bath upon blood bath in the past few years. In November 2017 a blast here claimed four lives. A month earlier eight lives were lost in a bomb attack that targeted a police van. Early this year, another attack on a mosque on Sariab Road killed two people. Just a few months ago, Dr. Abdul Quddus Sheikh, a Deputy Collector Customs, was beaten to death here by smugglers.

The empty hospital added to the atmosphere of doom on the ill-fated road. The foundation for the hospital was laid in 2009, when Pakistan People’s Party’s Yousaf Raza Gillani was the Prime Minister. The project was the brain-child of a local Member of Provincial Assembly, Ali Maddad Jattak. The project was started with much fanfare and it seemed like the hospital would be completed in record time. Jattak went on to become a minister in Nawab Aslam Raisani’s cabinet. In time, his pet project came to a screeching halt.

For almost a decade, the empty building loomed over the road, turning into a haven for stray animals. When Bismillah decided to turn it into a library, he first turned towards Jattak, the man whose dream now lay in ruin. The former legislator agreed to help Bismillah and also pooled in money to get the ball rolling. Then, Bismillah turned to his friends, 20 of whom pledged to help him set the place up.

Bismillah and his friends started asking around for funds and books. Soon, they had over a thousand books, donated by friends, family and civil society members. They renovated one hall inside the building, and added another two smaller rooms to the library. Novels, collections of essays, history tomes and other books were lovingly placed on the wooden racks. A part of the room was dedicated for female readers.

Members could take their pick of the books for only Rs. 200 a month. If they couldn’t pay, they were still allowed to use the library. Whatever money was made was used for paying bills and other running costs.

It wasn’t all smooth running. Government officers wanted the library gone, built as it was on state property. But a heated reaction by the civil society made them back off.

There are only four government libraries in Quetta and it’s surrounds. The Balochi Library receives approximately Rs. 50 lacs from the government, while the Pashto Library gets almost two million. The other two libraries, one of them dedicated to Brahui, also get hefty amounts form the Balochistan administration. And yet, they are not enough for this city of a million residents.

Lore-Karez Sariab Library has a much smaller budget, and no government support. But, as long as Bismillah Khan and his friends are around, the library will keep its doors open for people who love books.