Steeped in books’ romance

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 03 Aug 2017 14:14:46



Vijay Phanshikar

Libraries have often had a magnetic value. They attract people. They even absorb people. The sight and smell of books, and the silence they are engulfed in -- everything has a mesmeric quality. 

However, until I visited the Nagpur University Library on North Ambazari Road fifty years ago, all the qualities of a library had never dawned upon me in such a pronounced manner. The place had all those: Its huge building, its impressive entrance and the overhang of the porch, it foyer, its huge reading halls, its endless stacks of books neatly lined on shelves after countless shelves ...! More importantly, it was the element of stillness and silence in the place that made it come alive as a replica of the inner personal sanctum of a sage!

Even as a school-boy, I had frequented the city’s libraries time and again. I had soaked in their silence and their sense of stillness and stability to my heart’s content. But Nagpur University Library was still different -- first, for its size and scale, and then for the celebrated scholars visiting it now and then and spending hours there amid piles of books, whispering almost inaudibly to the library staff
instructions through smiling lips that parted only slightly under generally black-rimmed heavy reading glasses. The gravitas of the place often overtook me. I felt small yet elevated in that atmosphere.

I first went to the Nagpur University Library with elder sister who studied in a post-graduate class for English literature. Then, as a student of Hislop College and later a couple of other institutions such as St. Francis De Sales College and Mathuradas Mohota Science College, I would visit the University Library in my own right. There, I delved deep into books and more books and still more and thicker books, almost oblivious to the surroundings, unmindful of others, untouched by some silent romances that went on between some boys and girls seated miles apart yet connecting endearingly with each other through stealth glances.

Some teachers in the college often encouraged resort to books, first and last. The Hislop College Library was
truly very good, embellished by terrific stocks of internationally acclaimed books that came through donations from various schemes. Sitting in that reading room surrounded by books, taking in the morning sun whose light tore through the windows with ground glass, I did find great satiation of my curiosity.

Yet, the mind sought something more, and that ‘something’ came from the atmosphere at the Nagpur University Library.
A few weeks after I first stepped into the University Library, the library staff felt assured about my credentials and allowed me that rare access to the book shelves all on my own. In those book-lined gullies, I moved in a carefree abandon, hungry eyes looking for books that would support my studies. But then, there would come a moment when some unexpected title would attract attention, and I would borrow that book and get back to my table.

One of the most enchanting experiences in the reading hall was sitting at a table next to the table of a research scholar and watching him or her at work. The manner in which he/she would assault a thick book and start taking notes feverishly, the aura of concentration on the face, the grimace of searching something useful from so many books -- all that was very wonderful to watch from the corner of the eye.

Those were the best years of personal growth for me -- amid books, amid scholars none of whom would ever speak a word with an urchin like me. Yet, in that great company where scholarship was an abiding condition and virtue, one could learn a lot. Or if one could not learn much -- thanks to limits of intellect -- one could at least remain in an intelligent company and let some goodness rub on.

Of course, playgrounds often attracted a person like me. But noons and afternoons were for the libraries -- and class rooms, as a second choice. I still believe that the library is one place where one grows the fastest. For me, the daily rendezvous with the Nagpur University Library was one continuous encounter with inner growth.
Last week, quite instinctively, I turned the car into the campus of Nagpur University Library, and went in. Fortunately, nobody stopped me, and I had a walk around for some time.

Those few minutes were something like reliving the old days in a capsule -- full of energy only books can lend. Of course, the university has another library in the Amravati Road Campus as well. Yet, the library at Ramdaspeth has not lost its mesmeric sheen!
The campus is no longer what it used to be in those good-old-days. Some new buildings have come up, serving varied purposes. The old sense of order seems to have become a little less in comparison. Yet, the Nagpur University Library still has that old aura and gravitas that often magnetised people to those haloed precincts.

As I moved around the place, one past moment came up rushing: Once, as a first year student of sociology, when I was reading a volume of Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, I felt someone tap on my shoulder. I turned to see my own Professor of Sociology towering over me. I stood up and said an inaudible Namaste. He smiled and whispered into my left ear, “Vijay, I love to see you read these fat books. But let me tell you, this reading would not bring you marks.
Yet, let me tell you something more precious -- Don’t care. Go on reading.” He then grinned more expansively, and went off.

That advice has stood me in great stead in life. Books have brought me to this point of having made a mark in life, if not marks in the university examinations. The marks, too, came in good numbers, of course. But what has endured beyond the marksheets is the delicious feel of life’s romance. And books have made that possible!