Being a Woman
It turned out to be the best thing I’d done in recent times. On a spur of the moment decision I’d joined the Ernakulam Public Library (EPL). Of late I’ve been smothered by a feeling of deep inertia, actually less inertia and more of being unproductive. I was spending more time finding out what the world was doing rather than doing something myself and I had nobody else to blame for this. The final straw was when I realized with mounting horror that my reading and writing were taking a backseat to my sojourns into social media. Authors I followed on Twitter were tweeting while they were relaxing on their breaks after publishing mammoth tomes and here I was, frantically trying to keep up with all that was being spewed out and trying to pen a few words in between. Ironically the same social media provided a way out when I saw the page of the Ernakulam Public Library on Facebook ! Seeing it as a chance given by the Gods, I didn’t think twice and enrolled.
It has been an amazing experience. The EPL is not a state of the art library with either the latest software or snazzy premises, but I feel a deep sense of belonging there. The librarians are taciturn but surprisingly helpful. After completing the formalities, to my utter delight I was issued two old-style library cards. Not a sign of plastic on them, just two chunky cardboard cards. I almost broke into a tiny dance, such was my happiness! But the thought of giving the unfortunate librarian a coronary kept my inner wild-child in check.
The books were waiting for me. Oh! I’ve never been so happy to see dust. There was quite a lot of it, but it had taken residence on such great books that it was forgivable. It was a total mind shift for me and I felt I was back in college. The biggest advantage was that there was very little pulp fiction. I have nothing against this genre and in fact I’m a huge fan. But I have a tendency to veer towards these and in the process I end up ignoring some amazing writers. Michael Ondaatje is one such person who has suffered my disinterest. I’ve wanted to read his words but there’s always been something more adrenaline pumping which has distracted me. In this library, Ondaatje got the better of me and I borrowed a beautiful work of his called ‘Anil’s Ghost’. Along with Ondaatje, I got a copy of Nandita Puri’s short stories. There were some absolute gems residing on those tall wooden shelves; I was particularly entranced by old copies of the condensed versions of novels that Reader’s Digest used to bring out. Thick hardbound books with satin-smooth yellowed pages and the most beautiful fonts. However I’m one of those people who keeps the best part of the meal for last, so I’ve decided to keep salivating over them and prolong the anticipation as much as I can 🙂
After completing the enjoyable process of borrowing books, I ventured into the Reference section, which was on another floor of the building. For a moment I thought I’d travelled back in time, such was the sense of nostalgia that swamped me when I entered. The room looked exactly like the ones I’ve seen in the University library in my college days. A long wooden table took pride of place with faded red plastic chairs around it. The shelves were overflowing with books with a liberal amount of dust on them. I thanked all my guardian angels for not making me allergic to dust or else I would certainly have sneezed my nose off ! The electrical switches were older than me.
I was quite the eager beaver and went zooming off to investigate the lovely treasure. There were several bespectacled youngsters sprinkled around the table, with their heads buried in highly technical sounding tomes who looked like they had the weight of the universe on their fragile shoulders. They made me feel quite guilty about having a huge smile on my face. But the sense of being surrounded by millions of words from so many great authors was quite intoxicating.
T.S Eliot has never been a friend of mine. I prefer to think of authors whose works I enjoy as my friends and Mr. Eliot has always been slightly too serious for me. But when I saw a huge book nestling on the shelf containing a collection of his letters, my curiosity was aroused. So I tottered to the table with Mr.Eliot for company and I didn’t lift my head from the book for the next hour. When I surfaced for air most of the students had vanished. I tried to slide back into the book, but a combination of the peaceful atmosphere, the quiet murmur of the librarian answering queries and the gentle hum of the antiquated ceiling fan saw my eyes drooping. I valiantly tried to keep them open but I realized it was a losing battle when I went cross-eyed due to my efforts.
I bid adieu to that oasis, with a promise that I would be back soon. It had been quite liberating to be in a place without any distractions or intrusions and where I felt the silent approbation of so many gifted voices. I’ve always been a huge fan of libraries and book shops but there’s something about the Ernakulam Public Library which has made it my firm favourite.