The beginnings were unpretentious. The Deshaposhini Public Library began on 3.10 cents of land given by the Karyal family in Kuttiravattom, Kozhikode. The tiny room grew appendages with time and flourished. The library and its community hall are now spread across 85 cents of land. From 438 books and 117 members in 1937, the library today boasts around 45,000 books, 15 newspapers, 125 magazines and 7,000-odd members.
At the cusp of its 75 anniversary, the Deshaposhini Library is poised to take on the future. On the anvil is a website with the catalogue of its books, an e-reader to facilitate reading books online which will be launched in May, and a museum on the history of drama and theatre props.
The library's association with theatre goes back decades. “The first play we staged was ‘B.A. Mayavi' by E.V. Krishnapillai for our first anniversary,” says P.K. Prakasan, secretary, Deshaposhini. Since then, there have been over 200 full-fledged plays written for the library by Uroob, Thikodiyan, K.T. Mohammad, Vayala Vasudeva Pillai and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. A monthly amateur play is also written by youngsters.
From its theatre legacy came expertise in make-up and stage properties. Its celebrated “curtain section” is sought after by other theatre groups and loaned for weddings. The library grew to be a cultural hub when it opened its women's wing, children's wing and cultural wing in 1975. Today, a play school functions from the building, as well as career guidance classes and a chess room.
The idea of the library took birth when the struggle for independence was at its crescendo. It was meant to be a meeting place — of people, thoughts and creativity. The chief architect behind the Deshaposhini library was O. Choikutty. “He could not take part in the agitation against the British directly as he was employed with Pierce Leslie,” says Prakasan.
To raise funds for the library, Choikutty went to the rich of the locality and in return for monetary assistance gave them administrative positions in the library committee. “The first meeting was held on December 13, 1936 and the thought behind the library was universal brotherhood. The foundation for the library was laid on February 28, 1937 and it was opened to the public on November 27, 1937. It was made at a cost of Rs 468,” says Prakasan.
The library receives a grant from the State Library Council. Besides that, funds are raised for books by renting out the community hall for weddings. Apart from three staffers who are librarians, the committee members who look after the day-to-day functioning mostly work voluntarily.
Prakasan says that has been the tradition at Deshaposhini. The playwrights who wrote for them, the actors who acted in the plays, including the renowned Balan K. Nair, Nellikode Bhaskaran and Kuttiravattom Pappu — all largely worked for free.
“Even when we have tea during our meetings one of us pays for it. It will not be shown in the library accounts, so too when we travel for the library's purpose,” explains Prakasan.
Deshaposhini Public Library continues the tradition of waking up early. It opens at 7.30 a.m. “There was a tile factory at Puthiyara and workers there would come to read the newspapers before they entered duty. So the early hours,” says Prakasan.