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The writings on the shelf

SOMA BASU
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CHAT Margaret Sekhran on cataloguing the 123-year-old KMU Library in Kodaikanal

FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKSMargaret Sekhran and the library
FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKSMargaret Sekhran and the library

“Kodi was like a health resort then,” says Margaret Sekhran about Kodaikanal of 1965. She remembers the peace and mist all around, the pleasure she derived walking around the lake where a handful of people played the flute. “That charm of the hill station is gone today,” she rues.

But there is one nook in the hill town that still brightens up the 77-year-old’s face. It is the Kodaikanal Missionaries Union (KMU) Library housed inside the Kodaikanal International School (KIS) campus.

The KMU was formed in 1890 to enable missionaries to come together for recreation and to develop mission strategy and outreach. In 1923, an Edwardian-style clubhouse was built with a large central hall, tennis courts, reading and meeting rooms. With the decline of missionary activity in India, the KMU was wound up in the 1980s, and the property turned over to KIS.

The KMU library, maintained by the KIS, continued to function from the single room and has become something of a social venue over the years.

Long association

Margaret, a social worker, came to India post-marriage in 1962, and her association with the library is 46 years old. She first visited and used the library in 1967. In 1978, she became its honorary member.

Today, Margaret as a Trustee of the KMU library takes care of its priceless collection of 7,000-plus books. Life for Margaret has come a full circle. When she was a child, her father built a library — “a storehouse of classics” — in a van and took it around Derbyshire.

“We still have some valuable books from 1890 here,” says Margaret, walking around the library. “A good library will never be neat,” she says pulling out copies of The Bible in French, Spanish and Hebrew, a beautifully illustrated book on Paris…all from the previous Century.

“Most of our books have been donated by missionaries, past and present members, visitors and the KIS. We buy them occasionally.”

Fond of reading, Margaret has added the “India section” with lots of books on leaders and biographies of several unusual people. She also introduced the “talking” concept where members assemble for two hours twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) to discuss books.

“Our members are spread across the country.” Margaret is particular about encouraging reading habit among children and always requests her members to come with their families to the library. Interestingly, the annual fee is kept at Rs. 100, to make it “affordable”.

“It is my endeavour to ensure that every book, old or new, damaged or voluminous, is of use and not destroyed.” Margaret is now busy cataloguing the library. “It’s a hands-on work, and I do it with whoever is willing to volunteer.”

She feels it is necessary to make the historic KMU library representative of what it is, who the members are and what are the benefits. “We have three well-known novelists as members,” she gushes.

It is Margaret’s desire to keep adding books to the library’s present volumes. Aware of technology taking over and more people reading online, she says, “I hope physical books will continue to stay for a long time.”

SOMA BASU

It is my endeavour to ensure that every book,

old or new, damaged or voluminous, is

of use and not destroyed

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