Locked Libraries

A few weeks before lock down, I had taken membership of an old library and reading room in the city. The Albert Edward Institute and Cowasjee Wadia Hall are adjacent to each other and sit snugly in a canopied compound. The first floor has been let out as consultation rooms to some city doctors. It overlooks a busy street and is neighbours with the popular Kayani Bakery and Victory cinema theatre.

The Albert Edward Institute houses a nearly 145 year old library and the Dinshaw Cowasjee reading hall was added on some years later. There is a small passage that connects the two structures. The latter has cupboards built into the walls to hold books although it is fewer in number. Between the two, the subjects range from science to philosophy, social sciences and literature. While the main library is functional only in the mornings and afternoons, the reading hall is open all day from about 9am to 8:30pm. It is outdated as far as facilities go – no wifi, no permission to charge your devices, poor lighting, lazy ceiling fans. There is some noise from the traffic that streams in through the window but mornings and afternoons are generally peaceful. It has a charm about it and perhaps the intense energy of focus and concentration of many heads makes it conducive to work without distractions. The few times I used the place to work and read, I found that I accomplished a lot more than I do at home. If I shut my eyes, I see a sepia tinted photograph of the place and it feels expansive and still. Note to self, check with the librarian if there are any historical records.

Pune streets are strewn with history with old temples, houses from the period of British rule and wadas. Most of them are ill maintained and in varying states of disrepair. Perhaps it is their everyday presence which makes it less of heritage for the average Punekar. The city is best seen on foot and besides the architectural beauty, there are a great many trees and plants, growing wild as also in carefully manicured gardens.

The collection in the main library seemed eclectic as I browsed through it before I signed up but I’ll have to wait to explore more. There are over 20,000 old tomes as well as spanking new ones jostling against each other in wooden cupboards that groan under the weight of their spines. The dusty portraits of grim old men stare and a mildly wild imagination can conjure up images of watchful eyes following all the readers, making sure they don’t snuck a book or two.

The reading hall has long wooden tables down the centre of the hall and generous sized single ones along the walls. The day’s newspapers remain on the centre table. It’s usually filled with students hard at work, making notes and cramming information. Most of the single tables are stacked with thick tomes on economics, political science, computer science etc. It also sees the odd middle aged academics, researchers but they’re fewer. The senior citizens are usually found in the verandah outside the hall as most of the places inside are taken up by the younger ones. They sit with the newspapers, lounging on the chairs outside and often in quiet conversation with each other.

I had just started to get familiar with the reading hall and was hoping to get to speak with the librarian to find out more about the place but it will have to wait now. In terms of social distancing, it would meet the norms with the tables being wide as well as long and sufficient distance between the plastic chairs.

This morning there were a few tasks to be done outside home and decided to pass by the library. And as usual, took the long route home passing by some favourite houses and trees.

Red House is really pretty in the early morning light and one of my favourites on Napier Road.
I also spotted a beautiful Spanish Dagger in bloom outside one of the other houses

I stopped at a bakery to pick cake for S who completes 74 trips around the sun today. She is the funnest old person I know,  her life story is chapter after chapter of adventures across the globe but that’s for another day. Maybe if she agrees, I will write it just for the pleasure of reading it. Just for today, it was a delight to see her face light up when she opened the door. Friendship is truly a gift.

Happy Birthday, S!

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