“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Graveyard of Books


The moment you enter the dingy hall, it is as if you have ridden a time machine to the mid-20th century. The solemn-looking heavy wooden, glass-fronted almirahs stand in the darkened shadows like mummies in a catacomb. Most of the lights do not function; there are ceiling fans, lifeless, from a period movie. The forlorn tables and chairs are thickly dust-coated; so are the piles of old, musty books heaped on the tables and strewn around. The librarian who leads you is as ancient as the library; bent as if the heavy key bunch is wearing him down. I mumble- ‘Travel section, please’. The prematurely aged man fumbles among the dozens of keys in his hand and selects one. Moving to one almirah he opens it; as unwillingly as its doors creaking open, displaying the books stuffed inside. Old, reverentially ancient. I look at them, unwillingly to disturb them from their torpor.

This is a library in the city, nearly a hundred years old. It has a collection of hundreds of books and journals since its inception. Donations make up the majority of the books. There is NO catalogue; subject-wise division is vague. You will be dismayed to find accountancy books among religion; fiction among science.

I do not have dust allergy, touch wood. I am quite comfortable among the fungus-ridden printed volumes, which remind you strongly of a forgotten graveyard. I squat, pull out a handful of books and take them to a corner where a shaft of sunlight falls into the room.

I am among the dead. They dreamt, lived and died more or less like us. In archaic, stiffly polite language, these travelers of yore tell you of their great adventures out of their world, which was much smaller than ours. They ventured out to Bombay, Madras, Benaras, Kashmir, England, China, Arabia and then of course, America! In the dim photographs I see them in their Chaplin-esque attire. Silk sarees are draped in a totally different way. The women are dark-skinned but elegant and remote. The ‘England-returned’ men look suave in their suits and spats and flowers pinned on the coat lapel. Natives look prehistorically primitive.

I scour each book. I am searching for old travelogues on Himalayan travels. Then, I open an unassuming book, very prosaically titled, ‘Oru Himalayan Yatra’ - A Himalayan Journey. My senses quiver. I have a feeling this is not a run-o’the-mill travelogue. It isn’t. As I rapidly read the preface, the first few pages, I realize with great excitement that this book is the first Himalayan travelogue written by a Malayalee. The year, 1924. Later, many months later, I learn that this is the only copy left in the world.

But that is something for another rainy day’s blogging.

******** Balachandran V , Trivandrum, 21.10.2010


  1. Dey ,
    Old story, but good to be retold.
    Tell all also about your journey with the book to Calicut and in search of its genesis.

  2. I really hope that the rainy day comes fast so that we can hear the rest of the story

  3. Awww..you stopped? Dont save it for rainy day. I am curious to hear the rest.

  4. @Anil: Old story for you, yes. I am planning to do something about the library. I have to write about the further course of events. I wrote this as a prelude, a starter.

    @Liz & B : I will, soon.

  5. Do I know this place?
    Bal, I haven't heard that Zindagi dene vali..it sounds so lovely.,Do you have a good collection? I would like to borrow some. I am reaching TVM tomorrow.We could listen to your music over a drink,and I wish it rains.

  6. Oh my!. The only copy available in the world !
    Should be jumping with joy.

    Never heard about the library. No info on the internet as well.
    What does it take to be a member there?

  7. @Sreejith: Jumping? You don't know half of it! Wait till I tell you the rest of the story!

    Are you based in TVM? Then give me a call @ 94475 87368. All you have to do is to walk in and ask for a membership! But wait, there are great plans on the anvil to modernise the library. I am happy to say that I am the one who has initiated it!

  8. i got goose pimples reading it! many times i go to a book shop and just end up looking at all the covers and titles.. wondering there is so much written stuff on so many subjects! its like an ocean and each book, a drop...

  9. @K: I have always been in awe of books. Can you imagine the energy that has gone into the creation of each of them? And there is this regret that you will never read all of them, that there will always be a void, life will always be incomplete, that full-fillment is just a dream...

  10. yes...makes u insignificant.. like this tiny speck in the universe...


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