Have you been to a Rae-Bareilly?

“Have you ever been to Rae Bareilly?” I was stumped by this question coming from my neighbor’s 7-year-old kid. How and why is this little kid interested in the Gandhi family’s constituency? Well, my fears were unfounded. After some rounds of Q&A, I understood that he wanted to know if I had been to a library (lai-ba-rairy in a kid’s voice became Rae Bareilly!).

Hmmm, I told him that I had been to libraries in my schools and college. But this little chap wanted to go to a library near his home. So I took him to my stack of Champaks, Bhokaal, Chacha Chaudhary and Archies comic books; the 7-year old was satisfied with that but not me.

I have never seen a library in my town Ghaziabad. I have only heard of the British Council Library in Delhi and one probably in Bangalore. But apart from these ‘exclusive’ libraries, don’t we need more libraries across the country? Our politicians call bandhs for providing so many commodities either cheap or free to the common man but they never hold the parliament down for providing free/easy access to books and other reading materials. Is this part of their evil scheme to keep the man on the streets forever on the streets?

Here are, what I believe, the benefits of having a library in all towns of our country:

1. Access to books for people who cannot afford to buy them; access to books will not only enhance their knowledge, but also widen their horizon about issues facing their own towns, districts, states all the way up to the country and even world.

2. The self-appointed darogas (policemen) of Indian culture will also get an opportunity to spread word among the people about the value based sanskriti (culture) by showcasing Indian literature especially in the regional languages to the youth of today who are blamed for embracing Western influences while ignoring the rich cultural heritage of their motherland. What else can they embrace when the only public face of Indian Cultural heritage that they see is some hooligans burning down public property or breaking window panes in a card shop on Valentine’s Day or turning a blind eye to any constructive suggestion by terming it as an insult to their religious sentiments?

It just dawned on me, while writing this piece, that this library effort is especially critical from a regional language literature because a failure to do this (in the way I am suggesting or any other) could very well mean pulling the curtains on those precious gems forever from the general landscape. Sounds exaggerated?
Consider this: you and I still have heard in bits and pieces about Prem Chand (frankly, he is the only Hindi author I can quote, I know, shame on me) because our parents came up from villages and were in touch with these but keeping in mind the amount of Indian literature we know, how much do you think can this generation pass on to its children?

Just putting books in a building is not my idea of a library; the library complex should allow place for small gatherings as well where learned scholars from local universities, colleges and other affiliations can hold short discussions or discourses on some key topics including the importance of the Vedas in these days, the lessons of Bhagvad Gita, the teachings of the Quran, even controversial topics like whether the Babri Masjid was actually a temple with both sides being allowed to put their points across.

These debates, discussions and the resultant awareness and knowledge in the common man should allow for greater understanding of the complexity of issues and hopefully should result in a society that is more civilized and aware of the real cause of problems (also understand if there is a problem at all).

If we follow this, I am sure the next time some mischief mongers deface an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur, people in Mumbai will understand that no amount of kaalikh on Ambedkar’s statues all over the country will lessen even an iota worth of his contribution to the Constitution of this country and beyond. This is the respect and tolerance that is the hallmark of any civilized society.

If we cannot work together as a society for the upliftment of the man at the bottom of the society, we do not have any option but to cry foul when he converts to a religion which did help him get some education, however minimum it was, and raises his quality of life.

Like I said earlier, I do not know of any local libraries in our towns and cities. If you know of some public libraries, do share those with us here so that other towns and cities of this country can hopefully learn from them.

I will try and share my books (at least the ones I don’t mind if they don’t come back). It will hurt, parting with the darlings, but will try share good books and brilliant authors with people. That will be my contribution today. Yours?

PS: Recommended for science fiction/fantasy readers or simply those interested in DAMN good reading, Samit Basu’s Gameworld seriesThe Simoqin Prophecies and The Manticore’s Secret. The third and final part of the series, Unwaba, hits bookstores this December. Yea!!!!


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