What can be a better space for a writer than a library? Over the years some libraries have beckoned like havens, while other have left me feeling distressed and dissatisfied. During my school days the library was a place to discover the world through National Geographic and Time magazine–our book reading was restricted to the classics–to enable us to develop a ‘proper’ style. I’m not sure if it really worked. As a 22 year old college lecturer pounding the Delhi pavements, trying to kill time in the heat of April, the American library was the best shelter. I could pursue my somewhat futile study of Steinbeck in air-conditioned comfort or try to get a better understanding of Faulkner who had left me completely foxed in my M.A. I expanded my horizons to the British Council Library, then located at AIFACS and wandered confused through the art galleries downstairs. The membership was a life saver when as a marooned housewife I searched desperately for reading matter. During the time I was working on my M.Phil (left incomplete) the Sahitya Akdemi library with its dozy, dim lit stacks made me feel like a furtive searcher. Still does–people tend to fling curious, sizing up glances when you try to locate a vacant space in the reading room. The India Habitat Centre library is my favourite right now. The calm is conducive to thought, there are not too many people and there’s free coffee. I wish I could move in there!
So many libraries–such different libraries. The library in my daughter’s neighbourhood in Queens bustles with energy. And among libraries where I’ve had the opportunity to present my work two libraries in Cape Town have left vivid impressions. The Rylands community library, a cheerful Indian space in a multicultural city. The overwhelmingly warm welcome, which included a Bharat Natyam performance and a scrumptious array of eats. Thanks so much Nazma for having me over! The second one, in a poor neighbourhood made my eyes pop. Why can’t we have such libraries in our country? This library was actually a haven for kids for whom home was a dangerous space. They even served soup to hungry kids and gave them baths when needed.
I could go on forever. The charming spaces in some school libraries and the depressing lack of books in others. And the public libraries that are slowly losing their stock to termites and other such creatures with no one to care. The books locked up and kept out of reach from prospective
readers and the libraries that refuse to let you enter their hallowed portals. Never mind, the determined reader will always find a way. Happy reading!