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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Libraries and Librarians

To a book worm a library is a treat .
I always had this attraction to books and places where it was stacked up .
Boys are boys and are known for the rough and tumble of the playground the sweat and glory of a goal or a brilliant catch but i was happier in fishing out an Enid blyton or getting lost in a Biggles and his flight !
I sure would have looked a sad loser as a he boy and looked  the quintissential thick spectacled nerd i was .
In my formative years after losing my father at ten years books were an obsession .it took me to worlds unknown it brought me magic from kind faces from all over .i lived those books more than i liked them .i remember carrying heavy tomes borrowed from sundry libraries all over the town and lugging them in crowded buses like a Somalian  pirate carrying his well deserved booty .
To that extent God was kind enough to put me in the exact spot where a book worm and a library fanatic should be put .
Madras yes these days they call it Chennai and to me it just doesnt evoke any memories its always Madras for me
Todays busy Chennai with metro superstructures and shopping complexed and fast fooded roads isnt my nostalgic Madras which was a much more slower hotter but dreamier destination .
Somehow the city was blessed by academics and learning.The red sandstone edifices of the Madras university .the Presidency college .the yellow circular  ice house later called vivekananda house because the venerable saint deitified it by staying there all these and more buildings radiated knowledge and spread it across the open seas of the Marina beach into the vistas of the world beyond .
The city was dotted with libraries small and big and these were my haunts during my formative years
I dont think iam  reading one tenth of the books i read between the ages of ten to twenty .
i used to consume books by the ton my appetite was that of a glutton and i would read anything from a newspaper which came with the peanuts to that gilded prized book kept with reverence in a puja room
Buying books was out of the question for a boy whose mother looked after him with tightly closed purse strings and how she did that depriving me of no pleasures of childhood was a miracle indeed .
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But buying books wantonly wasnt part of the agenda then.
So i would frequent the second hand shops in red coloured moore market near the central railway station and spend a happy sunday morning rummaging its delights to buy a rare book for my small collection
Those days birthdays were celebrated with a better lunch and some rice strewn on the head in front of a lamp litted God no parties or gifts so i still remember that rare birthday when my mother called my school friend and he came along with his mother and gifted me yes gifted me with a comic book i was so delighted to get that i tried to read it immediately and i stopped only because of the stares of my mother .

Another thing she was strict about was this habit of mine of asking for books at any house which we visted only as a borrow but today i understand her that book borrowing mostly not to be returned is an embarrasing difficulty thrust on a book lover .
So lets come back to my habituation to libraries .
The Vivekanada library placed in a green cocoon of trees in the Ramakrishna math was a veritable treasurehouse for me .i quickly overcame the childrens section and the unintresting main section to dwell into the generally empty referral section.
It was here that  found nirvana .
Tall brown glassed cabinets lined with thick tomes of red leathered books drove me to orgasmic juvenile  esctacies .
I particularly liked the second world war encyclopedias
These had brilliant text and photos from war corresondents covering every minute of a war which lasted for more than five years .
From the time Hitler buyoyed his war machines and the Germans goose stepped into Europe and snowy Russia their tanks slushed in mire and snow with bazookas bursting thier bubbles to smithereens every single word danced in front of my eyes like the battle of the bulge played only to my pleasure.
I would pity the jews herded into cold wagons on their macabre journey to gas houses as that mad Hitler nuked manhood with the power of the satan .
I would rejoice in the soviets rumbling in their tanks on to a crumbling Berlin while the sands of Normandy would reverberate with the cannons of the ships in the sea as men in thousands would crawl across its darkness lit by spurts of cannon fire .
I would be transported to the elegant board rooms where an obese Churchill puffing at his fat cigar and gulping at his port would discuss with a wheelchaired Eishenhower the next strategy as the Jerries bombarded London .
Every single minute of the war was chronicled in those tomes
No google search could give one the minutae that they did .
There was this young swamiji in the library as librarian who used to look amusingly at this strange boy lost in the reference section sitting on a low stool admidst the fat tomes for hours
One day he asked me do you want to take them home read and bring back .
But swamiji those are in reference section and cannot be borrowed i would say
He would say thats left to me with a twinkle in his eye and i would carry home the huge books .
One day i dont remember how it started young swamiji replied to my question on something with a smile but is there a God ?
To me that was almost blasphemous coming from an ochre robed holy man so i said how swamiji can you ask me that question !
He took me to a quiet table and tried to explain the principles of Sankaras Adwaita and how theresnt any mythical superpower etc but it all went above my head then
Today thinking back i think that young swamiji had a soft corner for my fire for knowledge .

The librarian in the house of soviet culture was a lean tall dark tamil gentleman a card carrying communist obviously he just left me alone to my browsing and was tersely technical in his communications to this juvenile familiar who borrowed books .
Anerican library librarians rarely consorted with the commons as they were spotted behind glassed enclaves of their offices far away from
the reading halls .
The mount road district library librarians were Government employees and preferred to converse in tamil
Again it was the British council library which would give me years of happiness even when into medicine .
I remember a tall lanky Indian librarian there who spoke with almost a stiff upper lip.it was here I would fall in love with P.G.Wodehouse a love that would last till I close my eyes to eternity .
My kilpauk medical college library would always to me be a harbinger of good things for it was here that my partner for life answered with an yes for the question will you be mine !

In Ernakulam where i stayed more than two decades practicing as a doctor rearing my children the paico and its books was always a weekend destination my sruthi and shyam and premila too would select their choices and it was a great pleasure this weekly bookie fling .
The Ernakulam public library in the narrow convent road in its jaundiced  countenance was my normal haunt on sunday or friday afternoons .
Singh was the chief librarian and he lived in Cochin west where i also did and chumminess with a chief librarian gave me acess to the latest books just recieved by the library and i was mostly the first person to borrow many new books there.
Singh incidentally was not a oye oye  balle punjabi with a turban but a blue veined mallu as pure as the coconut oil his head was liberally smeared with .
He was just one of those keralites whose parents were fond of legends generally leftists from  other states.
so one finds plenty of Boses Sens Roys  Ajay Ghoses and Singhs in malluland .

My own uncle EN Nair was librarian of Sree Krishna college Guruvayoor , once a professor in psychology he was given charge of the library once psychology dept closed in his college .
He was stern strict almost foreboding and condescended to talk to the likes of me only when i reached college but by then he was so sweet and nice and talkative till the day he  left us .



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