Molvi Bashir Ahmad Vakil and Munshi Naseer-ud-Din

Molvi Bashir Ahmad, son of Molvi Muhammad Abdullah Vakil, worked as a school teacher in the late 1920s when changes were brewing on Kashmir’s political scene.

Discussing the situation with his cousin, Munshi Naseer-ud-Din, he one day voiced his desire to do something concrete for uplifting the Kashmiri people.

Well-educated like him, Naseer, who had drawn him into the conversation, echoed the sentiment, and the cousins brought it up with Bashir’s father.

Molvi Abdullah Vakil advised them to become members of an association of Punjabi Muslims which operated from Amira Kadal.

“Increase your membership in the association gradually and then use it for your political activities,” he said.

The duo, however, came up with another plan: they thought of setting up a Reading Room. Molvi Abdullah liked the idea, and it was the cousins themselves who made the initial contributions to make it a reality.

Despite being unemployed, Munshi Naseer contributed Rs 4.50, and Naseer, who earned Rs 15 a month, pitched in with Rs 5.

They hired a few chairs, and, with some old newspapers and magazines the Reading Room went into operation from rented accommodation in Fateh Kadal

Now it was question of funds to keep it running. Naseer hit upon a wild, outlandish way.

With Eid approaching, he pressed Bashir to pose as a beggar and seek alms on the occasion.

When people turned out in their festive best for Eid prayers, Bashir walked to the Eidgah in worn out clothes and holding a begging bowl.

“Allah Key Naam Pey (for Allah’s sake),” he would murmur softly on approaching worshippers, who responded generously – it being an occasion for giving and helping.

By the time the prayers ended, Bashir had a handsome Rs 90 in his kitty, enough to sustain the Reading Room for some time.

Gradually, the initiative began drawing other people, and the Reading Room started getting noticed.

This was when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was a student at the Aligarh Muslim University, and Karan Singh, the heir to the throne of Kashmir, was born in France.