Kerala

A life interwoven with love of books

P. Shankaran in front of Melattur Desheeya Grandhalayam.

P. Shankaran in front of Melattur Desheeya Grandhalayam.

For P. Shankaran, an 84-year-old retired school teacher from Melattur in Malappuram district, the decision to step down as the president of Melattur Desheeya Granthalayam, a local library, on heath grounds earlier this year marks only a minor rupture in a long emotional tryst that will endure whether he remains an office-bearer or not.

Popularly known as “Vayanashaala Maash” (the library master), the library, after all, has been an intrinsic part of his life for the past 68 years.

When Mr. Shankaran became a member in 1954, the library had just shifted to a comparatively spacious building having turned operational a year before in a single room with just ten books. Since then, he has been an integral part of the library serving in almost all official capacities from librarian, joint secretary and secretary to president.

“I always had an affinity for books. When I took the membership, I had just passed the eighth standard and had nothing else to do other than running a small kirana shop since there was no high school in the neighbourhood to continue studies,” recollects Mr. Shankaran. He resumed his education when Melattur got a high school in 1957. Shortly after clearing tenth standard, he enrolled for the teacher’s training course and started his career as a school teacher.

That, however, didn’t interfere with his love affair with the library where he dropped in without fail daily on his way back from the school. For many years, the anniversary of the Desheeya Granthalayam used to be the annual festival of Melattur. A play was an inevitable part of the celebrations so as a role for Mr. Shankaran. The library used to rent out curtain and he often donned the role of a curtain operator as well.

He oversaw the construction of a new building for the library on five cents allotted to it by the government initially with a nominal grant of ₹4,000 from the Kerala Grandhasala Sangham in the 70s and then with a larger grant of ₹50,000 from the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation in the 90s.

“We started a life membership of ₹1,000 for mobilising funds for the construction of the building. It has now become a problem of sorts with everyone preferring it at the cost of the ordinary membership entailing annual or monthly fee,” rues Mr. Shankaran. The library now has over 16,000 titles qualifying it for ‘A’ grade.

In between, Mr. Shankaran also found time to associate with palliative care movement and activities of Shasthra Sahithya Parishad besides getting involved in pensioners’ cause once he retired.

Preserving books remains a hobby dear to his heart and in the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic he had restored over 1,000 books. While he no longer visits the library daily, he makes it a point to catch up with the younger generation there at least once a year even as he rues how people’s participation in events organised by the library has progressively declined.


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Printable version | Jun 28, 2022 7:31:18 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/a-life-interwoven-with-love-of-books/article65548448.ece