A few years ago, Dr. Surinder Singh and I went to photograph a fort in Burail village, located in the middle of Chandigarh. As I was taking pictures, Dr. Surinder Singh got to talking with some young boys who were playing cricket nearby. They said there was an old man in the village who talks about the fort quite often named Giani Ravinder Singh. We followed the boys through the narrow lanes of Burail village as they led us to the man’s house. Upon invited into the house, I momentarily forgot about the fort entirely as the archivist in me jumped for joy upon seeing that Giani ji’s house was fully loaded with stacks of newspapers!
During our visit, we did talk about the fort and it came out that he was a descendent of the Sikh Army of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, who had attacked and captured the fort back circa 1711. I listened attentively to Giani ji, but my mind was always on the newspapers sitting around me.
I returned to his house the following day, this time armed with my laptop. Using the computer, I was able to show Giani ji the work of digital preservation which PDL has been engaged in for the past three years. Astonished, he told me that he had lived in this house since 1966 and had kept every newspaper he had ever read. I requested his permission to digitize all the newspapers in his collection, assuring him that the Library would take a small portion of his collection every week to digitize, and that they would all be returned. In response to this request, he smiled and said, ‘Davinder, I have found my heir.’ He told me that PDL was welcome to keep all of the newspapers forever.
Over the next couple of weeks, we packed all the newspapers and brought them to our office where we arranged them according to date. The collection included Akali Patrika, Ajit and Urdu Editions of Panjab Kesri. The newspapers spanning 1966 to 2005, included coverage of the landmark events such as the martyrdom of Darshan Singh Pheruman, the wars between India and Pakistan, the birth of Bangladesh, reporting on the economy of Panjab, the vaisakhi of 1978, and the events of 1984. Immediately we organized an exhibition of the newspapers at Chandigarh which over 20,000 people visited in just three days. Later all the newspapers were digitized, and the original copies are part of PDL’s physical archive.
It was Gianiji’s vision and understanding of the changing times that he was able to understand the power of digitization that he not only agreed to allow us to digitize them but even to keep them for posterity. Gianiji died in 2007, but he lives on through his newspapers and continues to inspire PDL.