What would the world be without books? Without libraries? Quoting Ray Bradbury, we would have no past and no future. Even in this hyper-connected world, libraries are indispensable.
I began reading books long before I learned how to read. I have been blessed to have been born into a family of voracious readers. Hot afternoons during summer vacations always meant everyone curled up with a book.
Over the years, as an army kid, I have had access to numerous libraries. Some small enough to fit into a single room. Some spread over two storeys. They were among the first we checked out while still living in the officer’s mess on new postings.
But some libraries will always have a special place in my heart. Read on as I celebrate the libraries that have shaped the reader I am.
Our Home Library
Our home library is our pride and joy. 53 years in the making and still going strong, you will find an incredible range of books. From Gray’s Anatomy (the book, not the series) to recipe books with drool-worthy pictures. From Young Children’s Encyclopedia and vintage World of Man Encyclopedia series to coffee table books. From 1950s editions to the recent bestsellers.
Book fairs and the Baal Mela contributed to the library when we were young. So much so that three full-size trunks were allotted to books. With time, our home library has expanded to a digital and audiobook one too. And across oceans and generations.
Here is a glimpse from my first set of books. The Young Children’s Encyclopedia from Britannica. Almost 50 years old, a bit dated, but this 16-volume series is still in pristine condition. A window to the world for my brother and me long before cable TV or internet.
My Grandparents’ Library
When I say my grandparents were voracious readers, I do not mean it lightly. They had a bookshelf in every room stocked to the brim. In the mid-1990s, as a 92-year-old, my grandfather’s optic nerves had degenerated and they could not be corrected with surgery. Not to be deterred, he found a contraption that was a magnifying glass with a built-in light and enjoyed his books and journals. It is all in our genes.
The library included rare books such as the out-of-print The Chiefs of Punjab and The Great Wars but also something for us kids – children’s classics, Enid Blytons, and comic books. In fact, it was also where I read my first romance book. A Barbara Cartland since it was considered chaste.
My fondest memories are the time when we would ‘refresh’ the bedroom bookshelf switching books with those in the living room. More often than not, we would always find a book or two that we hadn’t seen before. Sunday afternoons well spent.
The Children’s Park Library, New Delhi
Living right across Children’s Park and India Gate lawns was a dream come true for us kids. No doubt, a larger part of our vacations and holidays were spent there.
The Children’s Park Library along with the adjoining aquarium opened sometime in early 1985. By then, my father had been posted to Golconda and we were to join him in May. That meant my brother and I only had 3-4 months to read as many books as we could. The shiny new library still smelled of paint and barely had any footfall. Since we were not allowed to borrow books, we would spend most of our days at the library.
This was our first taste of a public library and the “rules”. That said, we enjoyed poring over the books trying to absorb as much as our young minds could.
The Centre Library, Golconda
We shouldn’t have fretted much since our next library was a delight. Among the perks of being an army kid is access to well-stocked libraries. The one that had the biggest impact was The Centre Library at Arty Centre, Golconda.
Spread over a 3000 sq foot area, it included a reading nook especially for kids. From classics to comic books to encyclopedias, it had it all. Not to miss the Asterix and Obelix, Tintin, Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajal Comics, Enid Blytons, Roald Dahls, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drews. I owe my extensive knowledge of Indian mythology to the Amar Chitra Kathas I first read there.
We were only allowed to issue four books and four comics at a time. My brother and I would pedal down on our bicycles almost 5 kilometers twice a day during the summer vacations. As we grew into our teens, the library grew with us transitioning from children’s books to young adult ones. It also introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen King, and Douglas Adams among countless others. It has been over three decades but the library will always be special.
Hope you enjoyed my short trip down memory lane. I would love to hear about the libraries that impacted your reading. Do share in the comments below.