History & Culture

Indian Institute of World Culture turns 75

A view of the Library at The Indian Institute of World Culture at Basavanagudi in Bengaluru. Sudhakara Jain   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain

A huge hall nearly 100 feet in length is stacked with books running into lakhs on wooden racks. Cooled by ceiling fans on the high Madras ceiling, people of all ages are seen reading journals at the adjoining Behanan’s Reference Library. The building retains the old world charm with wide stairs and thick walls. It houses an auditorium on the ground floor where educational and cultural programmes happen throughout the year. The newly-renovated Children’s library is full of children running around and taking their books for interacting in friendly spaces. This is the Indian Institute of World Culture (IIWC), offering free programmes and activities to the public for more than seven decades now. A model institution run by a strong volunteer-base, IIWC, which stepped into its 75th year in August, was founded with a promise of creating an arena for cultural exchange.

August 1945, Bahman Pestonji Wadia, the founder-president of the institute and a well-known Thesophist, was extra jubilant as the inauguration event coincided with the message of the World War II coming to an end. “Under this double joy we flag off the Institute of World Culture and we shall move from darkness to light, illumined by culture and knowledge,” Wadia had said, as he launched one of the biggest institutes at Basavanagudi in South Bengaluru. The road named after Wadia after his death in 1958, is now an INTACH-listed heritage building.

Born in 1881, BP Wadia belonged to the famous Wadia family of shipbuilders from a village near Surat. Inspired by the Theosophical movement, Wadia had envisioned IIWC as a cosmopolitan cultural centre where books, arts and service thrived.

Wadia’s involvement is said to have been so deep that people had often joked, “if North Bengaluru has the Tata Institute (IISc.,) the South has the Wadia Institute,” says Honorary Secretary Arakali Venkatesh. “IIWC regularly had literary giants as DV Gundappa, VK Gokak, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar and MV Krishna Rao as part of their cultural events and the library during the 1950s and 60s. Its rich history is being preserved for people. And we plan to have a year-long programme of events to mark its Platinum jubilee,” adds Venkatesh.

The institute’s huge 4000 sq.ft. public library houses nearly 1.5 lakh books which are lent out free of charge, apart from a reading room called Behanan’s Reference Library (named after Dr. KT Behanan who handed a huge collection of classics in 1963) that extends 400 periodicals in various languages. The auditorium hosts public lectures, art exhibitions, film shows, and music and dance recitals. “We have had 150 programmes in a year without a break almost since the inception,” adds Venkatesh.

Former Justice MN Venkatachalaiah, past president of the IIWC Executive Committee, had wished to update the infrastructure to suit contemporary needs. “He wanted an auditorium that holds nearly 750 people. It is on our cards,” says the present president VJ Prasad adding that IIWC’s first renovation was the Children’s library. “We have ergonomically designed reading stations created for children to enjoy the near 4000 titles we have, apart from reference books and encyclopedias,” adds Prasad.

All for free
  • People are welcome to donate books to the IIWC library (080-26678581; www.iiwcindia.org) or become life members by donating ₹5000
  • The main library of IIWC houses 1.5 lakh books on a variety of subjects
  • The institute’s journal ‘Bulletin’ distributed free, has articles and event listings
  • The magazine section has rare collections offering even the first edition of Chandamama of the 1940s; old sets of comics as Tinkle, Champaka, Indrajal and Marvel DC amongst several more.
  • The reading room offers 400 magazines and 30 newspapers
  • IIWC has plans to bring in a fully-equipped auditorium and upscale its building and furniture with public funds

From the IIWC library that started off in 1947 with 4,200 books and hundreds of people visiting, today the number has increased to nearly 40 times more. Public donations take care of the operating costs. “We have a modest budget of ₹1.5 lakh a month, but work with higher ideals that the founder believed in,” says Venkatesh.

Speaking about the nostalgia the institute is associated with, paediatric surgeon Dr. Vijayalakshmi Balekundri, Vice President of the committee says, from governors and presidents to Nobel laureates as CV Raman, Ralph Bunche and Julian Huxley, nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha, scientist Vikram Sarabhai, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the erstwhile royals Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar and Travancore Marthanda Varma had visited IIWC. “The institute has been an epitome of economical functioning, but is generous in imparting culture,” adds Vijayalakshmi.

Reminiscing about his childhood who spent borrowing books from IIWC children’s library, businessman Ashish Krishnaswamy, a member of the executive committee says, “As a seven-year-old in the 1980’s I had the thrill of borrowing my first book with a library card. From all comics to Ruskin Bond and Jim Corbett’s amazing tales, the library not just offered books but had fun events to offer. We plan to get this going permanently,” says Ashish who has taken a keen interest in contributing funds and having the children’s library renovated.

The influence

BP Wadia joined the Bombay branch of the Theosophical Society in 1904, and shifted to its Madras branch in 1907. Wadia later worked in the Home Rule Movement along with Dr Annie Besant and George Arundale, which led him towards starting the first labour union in Indian history. Apart from attending conferences on trade union movement, he came into contact with United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT) founded by Robert Crosbie at the United States and worked for it. Thereafter he founded several ULTs in India and abroad along with his wife Sophia Wadia. “The institute shall remain a non-sectarian, non-governmental, private voluntary body to mainly promote inter-cultural exchanges,” Wadia had declared.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 1:01:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/indian-institute-of-world-culture/article29194573.ece

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