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The Library in the Attic

Kasturi Borkotoki



We’re in the age of smart phones and kindles. If we want to read anything, we just slide our fingers, go to a preferred link or and read what we want! Books are still a choice but not the only one and the percentage of people who read books is fast dwindling. However, back in my childhood, books were our doors and windows to the world!

One of the most important things in my childhood and teenage days (70s and 80s) was reading. I was a voracious reader as were most kids in our generation. We would borrow and lend books from our personal collections. But beyond that, many had access to some library. I was fortunate to have access to the University Campus library for classics and famous books and would sometimes accompany my mother on holidays and spend the whole day reading. But the most precious library was the one in Narengi Club, in the Oil India Campus.


The position of the library was a curious one to begin with! From what used to be an indoor Table Tennis Room (which was later made into the Bridge Room if I am not mistaken), a door in a corner which was almost inconspicuous, led to a narrow, tin spiral stairwell (somewhat like a fire escape) and opened into an attic, which was built into a library. A small, cool, air-conditioned place with green cupboards full of books, it had a tiny window, which looked into the main club hall below. This window was used for beaming movies into the hall with a projector, on weekly movie days.


This attic was a brilliant combination! It was a projecting room which doubled up as a library. There was a small children's section with the best popular collection and then other books for adults. The librarian was a rotating position from the members, who curated the book collection and managed the library. Sometimes some of the children also accompanied the librarian to buy new books for the children's collection!


The library was open on Sunday mornings and one of the weekdays. There was a hard bound register on a table with records of accounts and each book was lent for about a week and could be renewed for a certain period, after which it had to be returned.


Most children went to the library on Sunday mornings. If the librarian was a little late, we would spend the time playing Table Tennis and the moment it was opened, we would all clamour up the narrow spiral staircase!


I had fun in the library. I loved it up there, browsing through the books, though most of the time we kept track of books of interest. We pre-fixed borrowing and returned with owners. If someone was returning a book of interest, I would borrow it and that meant I had to be present at the same time, so I could book it in my name. The librarian had to enter it in the register against my name!


The most interesting part in the library was looking down out of the projection window! We were supposed to be quiet in the library but most of us would whisper and giggle in suppressed excitement and get glares from some others.


On weekdays the library was closed except on days when there were movie showings. There were two shows during the week in the club. Wednesdays for English movies (sometimes foreign languages too) and Fridays were for Hindi movies.


During the screening, sometimes there would a breakdown and we would look up to the window in the attic to see the beam. If it took a long time, someone would go up to the attic to find out what was causing the delay and when would it be fixed. The library would look alien then. There would be round reels with the projector machine and the books would just be a silent background, as that day, it would be moonlighting as the projector room!


I have lovely memories of that tiny room, which played an important role in giving me a peep into the whole world through the books I read!


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[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Publisher.]

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