As soon as you push the red door that’s always reluctant to move either way, there’s that soft hush of the air-conditioner and the furriness of the insipid grey carpet below your feet. There are a few students murmuring, someone browsing the paper. As you walk in, someone kneels between shelves, lost in the forest of books, someone else hunts on the computer for that book they need. To the far corner is someone scribbling in her book, yet another one is fast asleep on Modern Western Art and several others lost in that new companion, the laptop.
It’s the library. The Mecca of learning, the ultimate dozing centre, the deep-freeze of NID, the place to go when your brains are out of order, to go when you want to breathe icy air, and last but not the least, the place to go to do that nearly-extinct activity called reading.
A library is more than just stacks of books on shelves and cool air-conditioning. There are little saplings of booklets, newly sprouted on shelves, and there are mighty trees, which have been solidly rooted there for years. In between is the forest floor, richly covered with millions of thoughts, ideas, dreams, values and hopes. Its rivers and streams of excitement, cynicism, boredom, love, hate, passion, intellect, philosophy, history and future all swirl around there in an intangible, invisible vortex. You can take shade under some mighty tome, or you may graze on some little books. Like any good old forest, there are chances of getting lost in this one for hours on end.
There are robots and ponies, geometry and poetry, the Mughals and typography, 15th century Europe and time travel in 3090, all rubbing shoulders with one another. You may be taking a leisurely walk or a 200-miles-per-hour ride in someone’s mind, depending on what you are reading. Sometimes something may bore you enough to send you running back to class, but there’s value in knowing what boredom is too.
Inside this forest of books you can see some interesting characters. Here is the dozer. She sits at the back of the library, getting some shut-eye during the day. This is not a lazy person, she came in with good intentions of browsing through several books. In her enthusiasm she yanked ten or more books from the shelves, made herself comfy, only to be lulled to sleep by the cool air, the quiet, and some incredibly boring text. She may be awakened by her mobile phone, a friend jabbing her, or the librarian’s “Utho”!
And there is the lawn stare-er, who sat to read but got so mesmerized by the greenery below, that instead of getting lost in the book she is now lost in observing the lawn-mower’s progress. Sometimes she can even be seen deeply engrossed by the crow’s antics on the branch. Most of us have been either lawn-stare-ers or dozers at some point in time.
Then there’s that poor character known as the ‘hunted’. She is the one who placed some precious book in the ‘don’t touch’ section before going out for chai, and comes back to find some ‘hunter’ has moved the book, or has borrowed it, leaving her destitute. One can see this person staring emptily at the shelf where she last saw her treasure.
The shepherds of the forest are of course, the librarians. They look after the ecosystem and don’t let anyone sneak in with shoes, bags, a non-issued book, food, drink, pets etc. They also check identity cards with the enthusiasm of the CIA. Without these shepherds there would be total anarchy inside.
An interesting lot are the ‘mobile ringers’. They are the ones who are just quietly reading their stuff, when suddenly their mobile rings loudly, waking up the dozers, provoking glares from the shepherds, even interrupting the lawn stare-ers silent love affair with the lawn.
Being a part-time dozer and a full-time reader, I spent many happy hours in that cold forest. How I wish I had spent ten times more time than I did! It’s sad to see students looking to the computer for inspiration, when actually it is sitting there on the shelves. It’s hard to accept that the magic of reading is not as widespread as it should be, and it’s even harder to think of leaving a library with so many books left unread, magazines untouched, and archives unexplored. Even when I have browsed a bookshelf a hundred times, each time I find some new little sapling, or big tree among the others, which I did not notice before. And in that moment, I get a warm feeling even in the cold air.
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Design at Steta