Browsers at the Hyderabad City Grandhalaya Samstha, Shalibanda, can get pleasantly surprised when they flip through brownish books with fading covers. Some of them belonged to the erstwhile nobility and elite of Hyderabad who fled the city in the aftermath of partition.
The Shalibanda library was born during this traumatic geo-political event.
“My father Roy Mahbub Narayan worked in the Excise Department of the Nizam’s government. After Partition when things were volatile, he spread a word that people leaving the city can gift the books to him for a library. Within months, he had collected 20,000 books,” says Oudesh Rani Bawa, whose family hails from Gowlipura.
The collected books were beyond the storage capacity of the family home of Mahbub Narayan, who then began scouting for a location to set up a library. “Anybody who was a somebody had a library. While money was one aspect, education and libraries were the other important aspect of Hyderabadi culture,” says Ms. Bawa.
The housing for books was solved as a war-period Air Raid Protection Shelter became available. A Public Works Department official, Malliah, opened doors of the shelter to Mahbub Narayan and his collection. “It had thick, strong walls and could house over 100 people in distress. The books were moved to that location and it began functioning from there,” recalls Ms. Bawa.
Today, as bibliophiles enter the library, they notice the thick walls and the sign: “Bharat Guna Vardhak Sanstha, Shalibanda, Corner Stone laid by Phulchand Gandhi, Education Minister”. But beyond the glory sign, the library appears like an ill-maintained facility. “We don’t have sufficient staff to run the library. The last time we had a professional librarian was years ago and for the past 13 years we don’t have a catalogue of books,” says a library official who put the membership at 4,657. Members can borrow books for 14 days. But the books are organised in a haphazard manner, without adhering to the Dewey Decimal System.
It’s a sad state of affairs considering the library has some 61,000 books with 31,000 in Telugu, 13,000 in English and 6,000 in Hindi.
Some have double binding, forcing readers to pick it out to check the book’s contents.
The library is now mostly thronged by people who want to read the dailies (it subscribes to 16 newspapers) and youngsters preparing for competitive exams. The room stocking books for competitive exams is the most occupied.
“Many books have disappeared. The library had 3,000 dictionaries in 16 languages. It also had the full collection from the dictionaries printed by Serampore Mission Press. Now, many cannot be found,” says Ms. Bawa wistfully.