Chennai’s Eloor Library in its final chapter

A man pores over books at Eloor Library, T Nagar, Chennai.

A man pores over books at Eloor Library, T Nagar, Chennai.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Work hours have increased at T Nagar’s Eloor Library, as the staff prepares to shut shop

It’s a working weekday, yet Eloor Lending Library is crammed with people. Most of them are old friends and loyalists who have dropped in on the way to work. A young woman in white is searching ardently for a particular author, and at least three members of the staff appear personally invested in her search.

The book in question is finally located. Turning down other offers, she makes her exit with a jovial “I have to head to work!” In the meantime, a couple of college students browse through shelf after shelf after shelf, even as one man stays rooted to his spot on a little stool, buried unmoving in a book.

The students take their time, calling out to each other when they chance upon something interesting, which happens pretty often. A pile of Orhan Pamuk’s works stand staidly over stacks and stacks of Archie comics, with Dr Seuss’ Fox with Sox strewn on the ground below. Elsewhere lie books on computer science, philosophy, war, sports, politics and more.

“My father used to be a member of this library, years ago,” says Nivedita Ganesh Mohan, a student of Ethiraj College, “He read in the news that this place was shutting down, and told me. My friends also used to be members and visited this library recently, so that’s how I’ve come here.”

Chennai’s Eloor Library in its final chapter

It’s Mohan’s first time in the library, and the massive collection clearly matches her taste, if the pile of books she carefully cradles all the way to the billing counter is any indication.

Mohan and her friends are part of a small crop of book lovers who have made their way to Eloor Library after news of its closing began spreading like wildfire. The library opened in Chennai in 1994, gradually spreading its wings from its first branch in Ernakulam, Kerala in 1979 to Delhi in 2006. The branch in North Baog Road, T Nagar announced its closure due to years of losses, hoping to make up for some of it by selling its formidable collection at heavy discounts. The books, which once could be borrowed for 14 days for a mere 10% of the MRP, are being sold at discounts ranging 30% to 80%.

Hence, books lie piled high on tables and counters, heaped on floors waiting to be sorted, arranged neatly on shelves reaching to the ceiling, pored over by bibliophiles old and new, with barely a month left in hand to be picked, loved and taken to new homes.

Chennai’s Eloor Library in its final chapter

A set of somewhat smaller bookshelves — filled with philosophy publications — make up the walls of a makeshift enclosure. Here sits a cheerful, formally-dressed middle-aged man, poring over the bottom shelf. “I’m stocking up on Osho’s books,” informs K Ramesh, who makes a living dealing in shares, “I have been a member of this library for the past 23 years, and yesterday, I was suddenly a non-member.”

Ramesh appears to still be dealing with that realisation, adding that when the news first reached him, it was all he could think about all day. He stresses that because of his attachment to this library, he hasn’t had to buy a book from a book store in years. The ardent fan of philosophy and light fiction found everything he ever wanted within these hallowed rows, and proudly announces his membership number that he’s had since he joined in 1995: 1290.

  • Over two milleniums after the library of Alexandria was destroyed in a fire, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in the city in 2002.

“When I first joined this library all those years ago, their weren’t a lot of books here. Then, they got a hell of a lot. Now, it is the one good library for English books in Chennai. They have any and every genre, even comic books!”

Ramesh intends to buy as many books as he can and take them home, to serve as mementos of a place that gave him much joy. He isn’t the only one; a number of book lovers across the city feel a sense of loss.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 12:40:49 AM |

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