The earliest memory: A small local place, lined wall-to-wall with books and the word used to describe it by my mother: Library. The word rolled effortlessly from my tongue. I was five and taken to a library for the first time. It was a different world. I was enthralled by it; however I thought I could keep the books with myself. Then I realized that at some point I had to return them, after reading, which was fine.
Awareness further kicked in – I could borrow more books without having to pay anything more and that was awesome information. It began with comics, and then novels – the trashy kinds – the Harold Robbins, the Jackie Collins (yes I have read them all), the Sidney Sheldons and the Perry Mason mysteries. The charm of a local roadside library is something else when you are growing up. The known uncle/aunty who lend books and do not demand a fine if you delay returning them because they know you. The comfort in that knowing however little, is still worth something.
The school library was another place where I found comfort and joy. Being harassed by bullies in school, books were the only means of escape and I always felt far superior to them knowing they could never invade this world. My school librarian at that time, introduced me to Agatha Christie, to Jane Austen and believe it or not, my very first copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was quite scandalous to be read by a thirteen year old but I did read it. The librarian passed on earlier this year, but left so many memories for so many bullied children in school and gave them comfort when none was found – through her words and through books.
The dusty corners of libraries, the high ceiling (sometimes), the knowing that a spot will always be reserved for you no matter what (no one really sits in libraries and reads, very few at the least) are spaces that I am most familiar with. Sometimes I wish they would serve alcohol in libraries, as it would be perfect with a book, not to forget food.
I remember becoming a British Library Member when I was in college as well. I opted for a family membership – 25 books and 4 DVDs at one time. I would go there once a month and it was enough. I was introduced to several British Writers at this time. From Iris Murdoch to Evelyn Waugh to David Mitchell to Virginia Woolf, I got to see the world differently. The plush seating and knowing that nothing could bother me here – the feeling of knowing that no one could call from home or get in touch with me was liberating. Libraries provide that as well – liberation from people and things and make you discover new ideas. All the time. The sanctuary of the written word so to say.
The American Library happened with a friend, who is very dear to me and she loves reading as well. At four hundred rupees a year, they allow you to borrow four books at any given time and two periodicals for a period of three weeks. Libraries make you feel comfortable. They are there for you and in them sometimes you find friends – who share the love of reading and passion for books.
For me, libraries will always hold a special place in my heart, despite the books I buy or what I receive from publishers. The process of finding of a book through the shelves and a smile that instantly appears on your face when you find it. No one else can derive that pleasure better than a library.
As Jorge Luis Borges, rightly said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of a library”.