Time Capsule | Ft. A Longing To Read
A Time Capsule about my favourite library
Unlike many of the people I know, I don't particularly have a Dream X. I didn't have a dream university to study in, I don’t have a dream job/career, I don't have a dream destination where I want to travel to, I have never dreamt of a home where I might want to reside.
There’s only one dream I do have. It pertains to reading and libraries. I want to have a personal library, wherever I live, at any point in the future.
My exposure to reading books came quite late. While I consider myself to be an early adopter of Internet and tech, I never thought about reading. As a kid, I didn’t think you should read anything outside of textbooks, and if you do, it had to be comics like Tinkle or Phantom. Even though I was reading Manga when I was around 10 years old, it was only when I was 12/13 that I truly flipped through the pages of a novel.
The earliest memory I have of a semblance of a library that people would keep, is from 3rd Std. My class teacher kept her books and comics that she thought 9-year-old kids could read. Obviously, I only selected the books that had pictures in them and not the novels that only had text.
We had a library period in our school. In the school library, for the longest time, I believed that we couldn’t take the books outside of the library and often in our so-called library period - the librarian would only give us encyclopedias or books of her choosing. I think that irked me, and I began to dislike our library.
Fast forward a couple of years, in 2011/12 a friend of mine asked me to accompany him to a library near my home. He said he had to return some books he had borrowed. I decided to go with him, since we anyway had to go to the park nearby and play our daily dose of cricket.
The library is housed in a building called the Indian Institute of World Culture. The founder envisioned this centre to give ordinary people an outlook of the world. He wanted to make available nuggets of knowledge, which will help humans in body, mind and spirit. The library inside has about 45,000 books and a children’s section which has over 10,000 books. Not to mention a reading section with over 400 journals and magazines around the world.
This was my first time going to an actual public library. I always thought it was a place for old people. We went inside the children’s section, and, up until that point in life, I hadn’t seen so many books ever before. I don’t think my mind had the capacity to imagine that so many books and novels could exist in one place. We returned the books, and went back to play. I don’t think I played well that day, my mind was only thinking about that place filled with books. I was eager to get back, there was this urge to visit and explore why there are so many books. What were those books about?
My friend said that since it’s a public library, I don’t need membership to just read the books inside. I was excited at this thought, I didn’t even know this was possible. I decided to give it a shot. I went alone this time, and entered the children’s library. As you enter the library, in front of you, you see tables on which there are hardbound books that are laid. Toward the right corner, you can see a host of children’s magazines like Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha lined up and a bit further, there are many rows of bookshelves lined up. There were people who were reading while sitting on, what I thought were rather nice old wooden chairs.
No one’s talking.
I could hear myself breathing, probably out of nervousness, like maybe, I was out of place or crossing or breaking some rule of the library. I swear the librarian gave me a look, which I think was out of annoyance. Immediately, I rushed to one of the bookshelves and picked up a novel. I recognized the cover since I had seen it at my school - some Secret Seven novel by Enid Blyton. I sat down, and followed what the other people were doing in order to blend in - that is to read.
I think I felt awkward being the first one to stand up and leave, so I stayed there and kept reading. I don’t know how time passed, but soon, I was the only one and the library had to close for the day.
It’s hard to explain what I felt then. It was like someone had woken me up from a dream. I returned the next day, and I finished the book. I was surprised to be able to make sense of it all. It was weird. I had a resistance to books, because I thought it was only in text, but somehow my mind could visualize the characters and the stories. I experienced the adventure that the group of seven were undertaking. That was the first time I comprehended the joy of reading.
I begged my parents to get a membership in the library. They took a membership. I could borrow a book and two magazines every week.
Soon, I had an obsession. I call this period my Golden Age of Reading.
For around 3-4 years, until I was 16, I read. I would read in while travelling to and from school, I would read in school breaks and even when I had something important to do, I would procrastinate by reading. I spent a lot of my time in the library. I am not an outgoing person, every library visit, for me, was an adventure. I was reading what many of my friends had read much earlier. It was here that I read the entire Secret Seven series, a lot of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Artemis Fowl and this underrated series called the Three Investigators. It was in that library that I discovered Harry Potter and the fantasy genre, and it was in that library, where I briefly considered being a detective while reading Sherlock Holmes and the Agatha Christie thrillers.
Looking back, I realise my reading wasn't exactly broad or diverse. But, trust me, I didn't care at the time. I was just reading whatever I had fun with. And the library gave me any book I wanted.
I was in some kind of flow, and time was immaterial. My reality was immaterial. The only thing that mattered was what I was reading and the world I was in. To paraphrase Max Joseph, there’s something about being in a library that makes you feel infinite like you can touch the magic.
It’s at this point, that I started thinking about a personal library. I started collecting pocket money, and soon, by 9th grade, I had enough money to buy my own books. And I did. I ordered a box of books on Flipkart, back when it was only a books company and gave amazing discounts. I ordered 13 books. I still have all of those. In fact, I haven't opened one of them yet. A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin.
The unopened book also symbolizes a decline. With the rise of the so-called golden era of content, my golden era of reading ended.
I haven’t been to that library in the last 5 years. I haven’t spent time in a library out of pleasure, it has always been out of some circumstance.
I stopped reading for pleasure. I didn’t want to read. I had to read now. There were entrance exams to crack, and then assessments, tests, reading for competitions etc. It created a cycle where I was constantly distracted, by my surroundings, paralyzed by the many choices of content to consume and by my incessant need to scroll on social media. Slowly, I think, I forgot how to read for fun. There were times, where there might’ve been a spark, but overwhelmingly I was becoming incapable of reading. I was watching tv shows, movies and became obsessed with podcasts, but I don’t think it felt the same.
My dream X is a library. It’s not just a physical space, I, of course, want to be surrounded by a lot of books. I want a place of my own, where I can enter and get lost in the infinity of books. It’s a place I can visit, where I don’t have to worry about things weighing down on me. Where, I don’t have to think about all the things I have to do, where I can just read.
The dream library is a personal yearning. It’s a longing for that fulfillment of reading a book week after week, where I was experiencing different lives without moving my feet.