A week ahead of Eid, Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar at night wears a look of hurried gaiety. Once a bastion of Urdu literature and books, the Mughal-era book market now houses just a smattering of Urdu book stores, struggling for visibility amid flourishing stalls selling kababs, ittar, embroidered kalimas and cigarettes.
However, Mohammad Naeem, 57, has no time for any of these as he hurries by. It is nearly 10 pm and he is late to open his library. Hazrat Shah Waliullah Public Library, tucked inside the cobbled streets of Delhi’s walled city, is unlike any other library. It opens between 10pm to 12 am every night and holds over 25,000 books in five languages, a majority of them in Urdu. Some of the manuscripts are hundreds of years old, and have travelled far before landing up in this unique collection. “We’re keeping Urdu education alive in Old Delhi,” says Naeem.