Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
There was no concept of public libraries when we were growing up in India. We borrowed books from friends and family and there were small circulating libraries everywhere.
Usually, these were little hole in the wall shops that stocked easy reading material – Mills and Boon, Chase, Harold Robbins, Enid Blytons, Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, Richie Rich and Archies, Commando comics as well as Amar Chitra Kathas, Chacha Chaudhris and others. I discovered Ayn Rand and Surendra Mohan Pathak in those libraries too. There was no fancy cataloguing – M&B’s were kept in one place, Commandoes in another stack.But the ‘librarian’ always knew where a particular book might be.
All you had to do was to pay a small monthly deposit and a fee for every book you borrowed. There was instant gratification of reading pop-culture books that my mother would not give me money for! Or even checking out Raja Pocket Books that I, in my arrogant pursuit of English Literature, would not be caught dead with!
I loved those libraries, and frequented the ones close to my house in Delhi. During College exams, when my head was overloaded with Chaucer, Shakespeare and Beckett, these libraries were my lifeline. I would religiously go every day and pick up five Mills and Boons. They were such mindlessly beautiful method books. You knew what would happen in every chapter! Between each study hour, I would read one M&B… and then with my brain and palate cleansed, I would return to the heavier ‘literary’ stuff.
These circulating libraries exist in many Indian towns and cities even today. In Mumbai, the one next to my house was really well stocked. He had all the bestsellers – Indian and International, cookery and DIY books, magazines, and even reference books. Oftentimes, I borrowed books from him that I required for my children’s projects. The person manning the library was very knowledgeable. He could help find you any book on the subject you wanted, and even had a photocopier in his tiny shop to help make prints.
I asked him once how he had such a wide collection of books. He told me he had an arrangement with some ‘kabbadiwallahs’, the people who collect old newpapers etc for a small sum of money. Whenever there are any books that people have discarded, the kabbadiwalas call him; he then checks out the books and picks up less damaged or unique titles.
I was mighty impressed with him. That a Grade 12 dropout had such a keen sense for books and love for them!
The next time you go to the circulating library in your neighborhood, do ask the owner a bit on him/herself. You will be surprised!