Old but vivid photographs and fading memories as aids, the historic library in Rashtrapati Bhavan overlooking the Raisina Hill is being reinstated to resemble Edward Lutyens’ original design.
Extra shelves that were added over the years to accommodate books have been removed, an old table that Edward Lutyens designed, complete with a set of chairs inspired by his famous round spectacles occupies the pride of place, and artefacts that were buried in vaults are being retrieved and polished. Work is underway at a frenzied pace to restore the library to its magnificence.
The decision to revert to the original was an outcome of President Pranab Mukherjee’s wish to spend time in the library.
“Over the years the number of books in the library rose to 15,000. There were bookcases everywhere suffocating the room. By trying to restore the Library we are trying to bring out the unique features of the room, especially the floor and the pillars,” said Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President.
In his book ‘Dome Over India - Rashtrapati Bhawan’ Aman Nath says as per the original design, the Library was equipped with 60 feet of book cases, two fire places, a marble and golden-yellow Jaisalmer stone floor with a ‘Swastika’ in the centre and pillars circling the room with bells of the Delhi Order.
To catalogue the books, some of which date back to the 18 Century and to ensure the library is equipped with political history and other genres that the President prefers, the Rashtrapati Bhavan staff is being assisted by a team from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
To be ready by November, the Library will only have select books apart from rare titles like the coffee table compendium of engravings in pictures of various art schools, published in 1807 and presented to Lord Curzon in 1904 by the Raja of Hill Tripura.
Artefacts that were placed along the two fireplaces have been traced and will be put on display. “All the Presidents have visited the Library during their respective tenures, they would ask for books, which I would then have delivered to them. But this is the first time that a President has expressed the wish to sit in the library,” said the Library incharge who has been in the position for nearly three decades.
“We are planning to include the Library in the tour of Rashtrapti Bhavan in the future. We are also seeking help from scholars to assist us in documenting the historical events that took place inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises. Pre Independence, there would have been a lot of discussions and meetings that took place here, and the President has instructed that we should document these. There are a lot of books about the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but we are yet to discover the ones that documents what happened in here,” Mr. Rajamony said.
Discussions are also underway with experts in museum conservation to give a facelift to the existing museums inside the Presidential retreats in Shimla and Hyderabad and in Rashtrapati Bhavan. “We are tying to explore the long term best arrangements for these museums,” Mr. Rajamony said.