Almost every afternoon for five years after lunch I walked the steps of our school library. Not being of the athletic type, books were my only option to spend time with. So, almost for five years I kept visiting the library, borrowing, reading and re-reading under the steady, serious gaze of the librarian. Unlike now, twenty years back we did not have the world in our pockets, so, besides experience, books were only the gateways into the world at large. Its difficult for me to recollect what specifically I read, but I remember going through encyclopedias, comics, retold classics, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, etc. Though I was mostly alone in my sojourns, occasionally I had company of one or two friends, who were surprised I was more interested in actually reading than talking to them. So, none accompanied me twice. (My friends can attest to this behavior even now when they come with me to bookshops ). Reading in the silence of libraries is among the peaceful times of my life; without moving a inch from my seat I would be transported to magical lands on awesome adventures. Who needs friends I wondered.
Libraries were not my only sources of books, when there would be book exhibitions in the school I would quickly buy as many as my teeny-tiny allowance allowed. Combined with the books left back by my uncles and grandfather, by age twelve, I ended up with quite a good collection, ranging from biblical comics to psychology to chess manuals. These were my prime source of entertainment during my summer vacation. One day a friend seeing my collection suggested that I start a library. First I guffawed but felt the idea was intriguing. Why not? I thought. There was some construction going around in the apartment then and few cement bricks lay in the cellar unattended. I did not hesitate to think what the president of the apartment would say and quickly arranged them in rows of stands and a counter behind which I could stand and handover books to customers. Then, I tore pages from my long notebooks and used sketch pens to write down the name of the library (Sai’s library) and the address. Armed with glue sticks in hand, I drove to the main road and stuck the pages to a few hoardings (never even realizing that the sketch ink would wash off if it rained or fade away or that the glue might come off easily). I even knocked on all the doors of the fifty odd flats in the apartment letting them know about the venture. On the day of opening, I stood behind the counter. Few folks came to see the library and some even enquired about the pricing (I had priced monthly subscription at only two rupees realizing I didn’t have weeklies or monthlies to lend, which were the ones people expected from lending libraries). In a week, I had quite a number of subscribers, mostly from my own apartment. The library ran for three months – a full summer vacation of two and one after my school reopened – when the watchman of the apartment said, they needed the bricks I borrowed for construction. That was the end of the library. But, I had already made hundred odd rupees by the end which I invested again in buying more books. I still smile at the naivety and foolish courage with which I went ahead with this venture. Though I was sad I couldn’t share my books with others, I was glad to get back to my library now that the school reopened.
We did have a library in college, but, there were other interesting stuff to do than going there. But, this was also the period where I explored four main libraries in Hyderabad – State Central, City Central, British & Osmania Campus libraries. The first was housed in an old imposing building built during the time of Nizams. Though I wondered when the roof/wall would collapse, it had the ‘old times’ charm. I got lost once trying to find my way through it and one section I entered was downright scary with dim lights, and weird sounds. The second was the City Central library housed in a modern building and looked as clinical as any government building could. The third was a private and posh one. Almost all the posh folks had a membership there (or atleast it felt so). I never liked the British library. Though I had a one year membership, the only good thing it had above the others was AC. In my two years of MBA, I did have access to the campus library, which was awesome. It was near to my college and I could’ve gone there often, but I didn’t. I couldn’t stick to any of these libraries. I might’ve changed. Probably I wanted to buy a book and read it at my place at my pace.
But, it sure feels very demotivating to hear today schools neither have a well-stocked library nor a period dedicated to it. I don’t think lending libraries even exist now. I might be happy that my son will grow up with iPhones and iPads, but, I definitely want him to read Harry Potter before he sees the movie. I want him to step into the grand halls of these imposing buildings and get lost and find his way back. Even my relationship with libraries has been on and off, but, they played a very important role when I didn’t have money to spend on books. I know there are many who still can’t. If I hadn’t spent time in one in school, I wouldn’t be on a life-long love affair with books. Who knows what I would’ve done had it not been there? I get reminded of Ray Bradbury’s quote whenever I think of the neglected state of libraries and their diminished status – “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” And, we will if there are no more libraries.