Having a library in your district is a big boon. Let the revels begin

My mother-in-law and I share a love of books. When a lending library finally opened in our neglected Tambaram neighbourhood in 1989, we went together. I listlessly scanned the airport paperbacks there till she scolded the owner, “Don’t show her all this rubbish. She has studied literature in Western Countries!” The man obediently conjured up Felix Holt. I left for Delhi a few weeks later to start my own household with her blessings and her Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a history prize from long ago.

In our present neglected neighbourhood, I once asked the officers of a local residents’ association if there was a chance we could operate a modest library nearby. One man answered that in all the time children had attended summer classes in the association’s rented room, he had never seen them pick up a single book from the steel shelf along the wall. I looked at that shelf, littered with dusty health pamphlets and half a dozen lurid paperbacks, and I felt ashamed for a community that would starve its children and then declare they had no appetite.

People in the hinterland need libraries even more than those living in metros. When we moved to Palakkad we heard about the V.R. Krishna Iyer Library, but I had a vague, probably unfounded vision of leathery tomes that would inculcate moral values in today’s youth. Instead, I signed up at the more pedestrian AA lending library near the bus stand for the standard mix of fiction, literature and pop science.

But now Palakkad District has its own proper public library. A few days after the inauguration we went to investigate this momentous addition to the town. We arrived too early, as mofussil people often do. Carpenters were still knocking things together. Beautiful new books were still piled on the floor, though sorted. They must be labelled, catalogued and shelved, so it will be three or four weeks before we can borrow them. Arched windows poured light into the sunken periodicals atrium, even on this clouded morning. A few young people asked the friendly woman at the desk about membership. The floor was so glossy that we all reverently left our sandals out front.

The library has a seminar room and will have comfortable furniture upstairs for those who want to settle in with a novel. Paintings from local artists already hang on the walls, and eight dedicated stacks will contain the writings of about eight writers of the region.

T.R. Ajayan, Secretary of the library, credits its existence to a wide cast of benefactors. Collector and writer K.V. Mohankumar had the land allocated, the present collector Ali Asghar Pasha took the project forward, and funds for books came from the district panchayat and the municipality, and from MLAs, MPs and NRIs. The library has started with 30,000 books in English, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit.

Next time we visit, our membership card will be ready, and we’ll take my mother-in-law along. She can hardly wait.

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