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An everlasting love affair….

An everlasting love affair….

An everlasting love affair....I feel there is something reassuring and safe about libraries. The thrill of discovery, looking for that elusive book, climbing the footstool to reach the top shelf to find a hidden gem and the sensory pleasure of the smell and touch of books are all part of the library experience.

By Nazarul Islam

My tryst with libraries began when I was probably nine years old, and my parents weary with two young children wanted to find a way of keeping us occupied while they got some well-earned free time! Once he asked an elder cousin to take me The British Council Library on Fuller Road, Dacca. This became a welcome destination of the 60s and my treasure trove of delight because sometimes I could walk full three miles to the place.

I found a new world and rejoiced in magazines like the Children’s World, Junior Statesman, the fairy tales and my all-time favorite – the children’s version of Superman

And sooner than later, my younger brother and I were hooked. Soon we had finished most books in the Children’s Section, in the prestigious library and then started our weekly Saturday ritual. On more than one occasion, In his second hand Vespa scooter, my youngest Chacha would take us to the Children’s library and the Balda Gardens, which boasted of a private museum.

In the Library, I would rush to devour the amazing collection of books and often had to be dragged out at 5 pm when the library shut and we were still in the middle of an engrossing story.

My visiting relatives from Delhi who were rich enough to visit us, Wasted no time in boasting about the mobile government libraries in Delhi. We were amazed to hear about Buses with loads of books with a driver and a librarian who would come to each area one day of the week and stay there for a few hours till people returned and borrowed books. What a brilliant idea it was.

Backtracking those wonderful days, I felt that the bureaucrat who thought of this fantastic initiative should be given a medal. Children’s Library for many years, offered me the joys of reading—stories of friendship, sacrifice, tragedy, sufferings, poverty and human kindness. There was heroism, treachery, evil and goodness and in the end good prevailed over the evil. There was always a moral lesson to draw, that I shared with my parents.

I enjoyed and looked forward to my library escapades till I was 12 years old. And, this was my staple source of Enid Blytons, Nancy Drew, William, Biggles, the classics and of course the Austen’s. All this was for a paltry one rupee library card that had to be renewed once a year.

How can I forget the train libraries? Again what an ingenious idea of a book loving Railway bureaucrat! As soon as we got into the GT express or the AJanta or KK express (as it was then called), for the long 48 hour journey, the first thing was to check out the tiny library in one of the compartments and borrow four books to be read on the top berth of the train, oblivious to everyone and anything else. Whenever we visited relatives in India, we looked forward to travel on trains that carried Children’s books.

My school library was full of interesting books by English authors. My love for English literature started because of my teacher Br. Thomas O’Keefe who generated our particular interest by telling us some wonderful stories, backed by references to available books in school library.

He was also the librarian with whom we would earnestly discuss the works of Suitable authors for our age. Later, in Senior Classes, he accepted me to assist him as his assistant Librarian of the school Library—a coveted post, that made feel proud.

Beginning from here, onwards—looking for quaint libraries in every city has become a passion. I have been fortunate to visit nearly 60 cities in 45 countries. I was required to visit overseas to promote academic collaboration, curriculum exchange and training programs. I worked for a British Charity which promoted Skill Development Programs in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

In the course of my work, whenever, I had chanced to visit New York, London, Amsterdam, Sydney or Zurich—I took time to visit the decor and glamor of the huge libraries, particularly the institution’s Children’s Section. I always enjoyed visiting the International Cultural Section, which offered information

I was able to pass on an enhanced level of interest for books to my children. All of them enjoyed the visits to book stores and libraries. When, the Islam family migrated to US, they found themselves at home in the nearest libraries that boasted of exciting sections for children and young adults. Their regular visits catalyzed their strong interest to their education, and career development. Perhaps, this habit was instrumental in career development. All of them excelled in life.

On a Training Session in the UK, I was delighted to live in a flat that was a 10-minute walk from the Manchester City library with its 1850s architecture and a great selection of books on science and art read between cups of hot chocolate from the library café.

I feel there is something reassuring and safe about libraries. The thrill of discovery, looking for that elusive book, climbing the footstool to reach the top shelf to find a hidden gem and the sensory pleasure of the smell and touch of books are all part of the library experience.

Children’s libraries with reading areas, in particular, lead to voyages of adventure to rich imaginary lands for every child, regardless of gender, income, disability, caste or religion. It is hence such a wonderful initiative that in the small urban centers of Karachi, and Dhaka, the Government started new rural children’s libraries this year, some of them with books in Braille.

Once again the brilliant brainchild of a book-loving bureaucrat!


About the Author

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.