Update: *This article finally made it to Deccan Herald's Education Times. :)
It’s just another busy afternoon. The librarian sits with his door graciously open in an attempt to tempt a few interested visitors into his little abode. This library is not the kind which loudly calls for attention, squeezed as it is between a clock repair shop and the dry cleaner’s on one of the lesser roads of Basavanagudi. There is no dearth for people on this road, that’s true, but they move about purposefully, forgetting to even glance at Mahesh Circulating Library as they turn this way. The evening traffic rumbles on perennially, choking the world outside with smoke, noise and partially burnt carbon. People shout, children scream, and pandemonium reigns.
A little girl waits as she turns a bend on her way to the market with her mother. Her eyes search for that little inconspicuous bit of building, and she smiles when she is reassured that it is there like it always is. She breaks free of her mother and rushes in, to see if the library has received new comics. She gets the same answer she has come to expect. The librarian replies in the negative. But she is optimistic that this time’s denial means a double bonus for the next visit. Once again, she has to make do with the 1993 fortnightly editions she has already nosed through a million times. But she finds pleasure in digging through the haphazardly stacked comic books, earning that August edition with missing pages that she loves so much. It’ll cost her fifty paisa per day, but that’s OK. She knows she’ll be done with her Tinkle in about an hour. She glances back at the library, hoping that she could have been allowed to sneak in one more novel.
The library is growing old too. Now everyone notices the books which are falling apart, wasted crosswords which are already pencil-darkened, and a missing copy of Highlights comic which still hasn’t been returned. Looks like the little girl buried it below her bed and forgot about it. The library is not doing good business, and how can anyone survive with a mere two rupees a day? Even the beggars on MG road do better than that. The manuscripts here are in various stages of decay….and no one is sympathetic anymore. But the little girl is still a visitor; she’s too young to notice flaws. The librarian seems to have forgiven her past mistake of losing a library book. She still hasn’t found it, and she is lazy enough not to burden herself with such meager activities when she has already been pardoned. She now reads her Nancy Drew’s, borrowing one each time she has a holiday. They are yellow, 1960 editions, and don’t smell good. She wonders how they were when they were fresh off the press, smelling faintly of paper glue and ink. She wonders how Mahesh Circulating Library was then too, once upon a time when it was painted freshly for the first time, and brand new books were shelved. The librarian must have beamed, and there must have been a lot of customers. The girl fantasizes to think that the library receives mysterious shipments every week, but they are more likely the second hand books donated by a nearby paper walla who dumps his useless booty here when he finds no further use of them. There are generations of books here, wormed through many times by silverfish. They still wait pathetically for someone to pick them up. But the girl is already done with reading her Nancy Drew’s and she now even owns some of the 1993 Tinkle comics. She is also disinterested in the old bound books on the higher shelves. After all, she still has a lifetime to go through them; the library will not evaporate into thin air, anyway.
The girl is now not a frequent customer. Gone are the days when she wore satin frocks and bounced into the little place with expectations. Her world is bigger, and she’s happier buying off books from road spreads instead. Meanwhile, time is slowly advancing, and the girl forgets to realize this.
One fine day, the doors of that little place open. Sunshine pours into that dingy place once more. That small room even looks cleaner, brighter, and wider. But the books are gone. The lingering smell of old books has been replaced with the smell of kerosene, turpentine and car grease. The painted letters of “Mahesh Circulating Library” have been wiped clean. It is now the mechanic store, a place for broken tires, old cars and vehicles that need fixing. There is noise, and the revving of engines. It’s the quick repair shop, and is popular too. People throng the place, it’s always busy. Everything is painted a bright shade of red to emphasize its presence. It’s a wild transformation of proportions which discomfort the girl. And she had thought the library could not disappear into thin air! She is overwhelmed by the loss. The mechanic store is a welcome change to many, who see the usefulness of the transformation, but the girl is probably the only one who mourns the death of the library. For others, life has already moved on. She thinks could have reached those bound books by now…sadly, she never read them.