“It was a rare opportunity, a chance to see up close the Kerala Legislature, its visitors’ gallery, the Assembly itself and the Museum there,” says Jessy Narayanan, secretary of Malayalam Pallikoodam in Thiruvananthapuram.
A hundred students of the Pallikoodam were among 50,000-plus school students who visited the Assembly premises that were thrown open to the public during the week-long centenary celebrations of the Kerala Legislative Assembly Library. The celebrations included the Kerala Legislature International Book Festival and a plethora of cultural programmes in the evening. Authors, readers and speakers thronged the festival attended by the likes of Srilankan Booker prize winner Shehan Karunatilak and Malayalam literrateur T Padmanabhan.
Jessy points out that even the premises of the Assembly are usually out of bounds for visitors without the necessary passes and permits. “However, during the week, those coming to see the Kerala Legislature International Book Festival were able to visit the Library, Museum, roam around the Assembly and take photographs too. I doubt if this has ever happened anywhere else in the country,” she adds.
The book exhibition and cultural programmes had people from all over the State making a beeline to see the premises that is usually seen on television.
The Kerala Legislature Library located in the Administrative Block of the complex was started with a collection of books owned by Diwans of erstwhile Travancore. Known as Legislative Library in 1921, it was renamed the Travancore Cochin Assembly Library in 1949 before it became known as the Kerala Legislature Library.
The Library has more than one lakh books, gazettes, newspapers and periodicals covering several decades and is a treasure trove of information on the State and its history. The three-storey building also has a collection of rare books on the State.
Situated in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, it was once the camp of the Travancore Army. Membership of the Library has now been opened to the public as well.
Parvathy VS, a teacher educator at Nalanda Teachers Training Institute in Palode, on the outskirts of the city, says it was a unique and memorable experience for the 36 first-semester students of the Institute. “As part of their curriculum, the students are expected to hold a mock Parliament. We have ministers, different departments, a speaker and watch and ward staff too. So, it was wonderful for the students to see it first-hand. An officer of the Legislature Secretariat took us around a tour of the Assembly. We saw the museum with its rich collection of memorabilia, the sculptures there…” says Parvathy. They also met journalists of Sabha TV, which covers the proceedings of the Assembly when it is in session.
From 9 am to 9 pm, visitors streamed in to buy books, see the museum and walk freely into the Assembly under the watchful eyes of the Watch and Ward staffers. Batches of students were happily taking selfies near a bust of former President KR Naryanan in the foyer of the Assembly and posing for photographs inside the Assembly premises.
Ananthakrishnan RS, a school teacher from Alumthara, near Venjarmoodu, is visiting the Assembly for the first time with his students. Busy distributing ice cream cones to the students, he says it was a memorable trip for all of them. “The Assembly is a house of representatives of the people. It was nice to get a feel of the place and have staffers explain everything to us. Who knows if we will get another opportunity like this?” he wonders.
The success of the festival is reflected in Speaker AN Shamseer’s face. He says while he was confident that his office and staff could organise a book festival, he wanted to ensure that there was large-scale participation of people, especially students. More than 50 publishers, big and small, took part in the festival that concluded on January 15.
He says: “I am happy that students and visitors from every district took the opportunity to visit the Assembly and the book fete. Our tagline is a ‘Reading is an Addiction’ and it was wonderful to see people coming for the book fete in large numbers, browsing through the collection and buying books.”
Dismissing security concerns raised by some, he says that he was sure that there was nothing that the employees in the Legislature complex could not tackle. “Don’t heavily guarded places come under attack? I was optimistic that our people would not create any law and order issues and they lived up to our expectations.”
Truly, a week that was for by the people, by the people and of the people!
“A democratic endeavour of a democratic government,” says Jessy.