A Library Mourns The Death Of Libraries: Where Do The Children Go Now?
NEW DELHI: The sun is scorching and we are standing outside Shankar’s Dolls Museum on Delhi’s Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. The security guard tells me that I have to use the next entrance for The Children’s Book Trust. I climb the stairs and find a bookshop on my left. A woman is walking out of the bookstore, presumably with her mother and daughter, and telling them that this bookstore is a government enterprise.
She’s not alone, a lot of people make this mistake, I did too; The Children’s Book Trust was set up by cartoonist and illustrator Shankar in the year 1957 and the staff here insists that we remember that.
Apart from continued patronage to regional writers and illustrators in children’s literature, the Children’s Book Trust houses Dr. BC Roy Memorial Children’s Reading Room and Library. As I enter the Reading Room, I am stunned by the brightly coloured shelves, stocked with a formidable collection—encyclopedias, five-minute fairy tales, Sherlock Holmes and Quentin Blake; Noddy is hardbound in a rich red with golden letters embossed on his spine, it’s good to see an honourable citizen like him sporting the glory he deserves. We settle for an interview, the library is exuberant and vivacious and yet it exudes the wisdom of a hundred-year-old sage, just like a yesteryears star.
(The walls are covered with posters on the theme ‘Women Empowerment’)
Q. Are your books your best trait?
You know, a library is many things—a repository of great ideas, a perfume room for the smell of books, an art gallery with the most beautiful illustrations bound between covers, a house for the librarian, a cover from the searing heat, a chance to sit on newly varnished furniture. So no, I don’t see my books as my best trait, if it were not for the people who visit me, I would have been a simple room with neatly stacked books, how boring!
Q. Why do we need more libraries for children?
I feel like a lot is lost when we use technical jargon, I know, I’m filled with that jargon! Successive governments have ignored the need to revive libraries in India. The Delhi Public Library has failed to meet the needs of a growing city like Delhi. Likewise, the emphasis on children’s literature has been limited to uninspiring summer-holiday-homework.
We need more libraries for children because democracies remain open when libraries remain open—books are a one-way ticket to travel the world, they’re sweeter than candy, funnier than a squirrel and richer than any treasure a pirate could find. With the inequalities that exist in our country, I don’t want books to become a commodity that only the rich can afford. Stories are better serialized than monetized. Communities too, become stronger because children tend to understand the importance of friendship, of adventure, of challenging existing conditions; they create a world for themselves and I’m sure a fictional universe, however outrageous, beats the real one any day.
(Postcards from the library on a bright sunny morning)
Q. What have you done to invite children to your library?
I don’t want to be an old bumpkin who mourns the advent of technology! I agree that I haven’t done enough, I only have one branch and that too on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg! The Dolls Museum has expanded my social circle, children who come here for school excursions wind up at my door. That said, I understand that libraries run by people in the social sector have better outreach. It is ironic because I have more resources and yet I fail to attract more readers. My membership fee is nominal and I organize drawing competitions and workshops but very few children visit me regularly, hardly any from government schools. I wonder if ‘No Child Left Behind’ meant No Child Left Behind….in a library.
(ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY KARISHMA KOSHAL)