Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | August 24, 2008

Museum, Library

It is too early for me to judge whether everything here is good or everything back in India is bad. However, when the world generally is going through a collective social degradation every citizen of each individual country tries to do his or her bit to prevent the downfall. I am sure in India too; such movements are present (Caferati for example is one such movement with which I am proudly associated) but owing to a general lack of interest and huge population, too engaged with other apparently irrelevant things one does not get to notice such things. In effect, our reading and writing habits are slowly decaying and we as a community have long forgotten the art of appreciating beautiful words. Therefore, we don’t get to see well maintained libraries, flourishing reading clubs like Caferati and a general tendency among youth to appreciate knowledge. I am always supportive of these things and thus I admire those who even intend to disseminate knowledge on the blogs but alas we get to see very few! I love my country and never intended to have these realisations by travelling overseas and thus I sincerely hope our nation also reinvents itself! Let’s not be very happy with our current status and let us take the ownership upon us to rebuild it rather than bestowing it on the politicians.


Auckland is not such a place where people have given up trying to restore the love for literature and culture. Again I must say, perhaps the smaller population helps a little but the way such initiatives are maintained, you tend to appreciate the intent behind the same.


I always thought visiting museum is boring. In fact, I could not have imagined myself visiting a museum without my father who made such visits so interesting to me when I was a child.  However, I do not know why, during our first days at Auckland, I thought of taking a long walk towards Auckland Museum (picture on top of the header). It has been raining since the time we arrived here and it has been chilly too but we felt nothing can stop us to reach the place. Trust me; it turned out to be a long walk uphill in not so pleasant weather but it was worth it. Auckland Museum is like any other museum housing national history but what made it special was the way interactive menus and continuous audio voiceovers make the visitors feel interested. There is a complete floor dedicated to New Zealand war history and when I came to know, India doesn’t possess any war memorial I was saddened. Interestingly, the museum had numerous children (toddlers!) with their parents as visitors. I was reminded of my childhood when I saw parents trying to explain national history to children who could barely walk. Amidst this playfulness there was intent of passing on the baton to a younger generation. When one overhears the discussion between a parent and a child inside the museum one would feel that the congenial environment in an apparently “boring” place has made a fruitful discussion possible. Yes, many of these children would grow up choosing playstation and X-boxes but still that did not deter the authorities to preserve national heritage in the most attractive way.


Another place that surprised me was Auckland City Central Library. I have visited some decent libraries in Kolkata and also seen the most enthralling JNU library in Delhi but if I would remember two libraries ever in my life, they are the ones where two of my very close people contributed the most. One was a Mecon Recreation Club library inside a boring public sector enterprise – a movement that had my father as the main initiator and second was, St. Xavier’s School Library managed by Suvroda fifteen years back! Only they can comment whether they consider their efforts successful or not but I can tell you these are two places which readers frequented for the sheer love of reading. Otherwise in India libraries are frequented by visitors who are preparing for competitive examination thus making it a place for memorising theories.


Auckland City Central Library is huge and it took the volunteer to just see our passports to welcome us with a membership. We don’t need to pay any annual, monthly or even borrowing fees to avail the library services. Rules are pretty relaxed and one can borrow absolutely as much as they would like but it is requested of you that you keep your return date in mind – 28 days later! Taking a membership in the City Central Library in effect means you become a member to nearly ten libraries around entire Auckland since every colony has a library of their own.  You would not miss your books even when you were changing houses. The library facilitates your smooth membership by allowing you to borrow / return in any of its branches. Of course, the collections of books are very good and in every subject under the sun.  You can read, write and use the library computers to help yourself.  The library also has 275 Bengali books among others. You can even try learning a language here (even Bengali!) since there are volunteers to teach you and also numerous books / audio tapes to aide you. I am discussing Bengali but you can safely assume the same is true for French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Sinhalese and many other languages. Yes, there are playstation games and film DVDs available to borrow too but these come at a nominal price – they are not treated priceless as the books are!


Our trip to the library this Saturday morning was particularly interesting since we saw a virtual kindergarten school inside it. Parents were sitting with their toddlers and a volunteer was singing children songs for all of them. Here or for that matter in any toy shop children are not interrupted while doing anything. Thus, in the children area (of library, bookshops and toy shops), one shall find children playing with the books, toys without the caretakers being worried about them getting destroyed. I have never seen such attitude towards children ever in my life. Thus, other than watching kids dancing to nursery rhymes along with their parents, we saw children reading ladybird classics, Enid Blyton among other books sitting in weird corners of the library – ALONE!. I put the word alone in capitals because there was actually none to spoon-feed them when they were trying to flirt with the books and trying to determine whether to like them or dislike them. Trust me, a walk around the shelves in library and bookshops will make you find children in the weirdest of corners reading books or at least playing with them. I have never seen such independent children ever in my life. It is sad, in India perhaps we find such independent children only amidst people in the poorest strata. Have anyone of us noticed the joy in their eyes when they play mischief or play in the rains? I hear from my friends that nursery schools in India are mighty expensive but here I feel children don’t need to go to nursery schools because places like city libraries provide such great ambiance for learning. These facilities are provided by the local government out here for the benefit of its citizens.


While walking down the streets this Sunday morning at around 10 AM, we thought of entering a small store kind of a place. I shall tell you why we do it, first I feel curious about the city and its ways and secondly, I love to get free brochures to read and now I have almost read a 100 in three weeks. Anyway, as soon as we entered a middle-aged lady greeted us and took us to her small cubicle. She asked us whether we have come to see the lawyer who shall provide advice for free. We said no and to which she enquired what kind of advise do we require. I could make out that this is a voluntary advisory service run by the city council and we can actually seek advice on anything relating to the city. I thought I should not lose this opportunity (we Indians can bore people to death!) so we sat their for nearly forty minutes discussing history, work culture, my writing abilities, problems faced by homemakers in general, eternal debate between man and woman regarding cleanliness etc. In interim, the sweet lady was attending to other errands too but she gave us a feeling that talking to us was her job too. We were elated to say the least because I don’t recall last time someone thought it was his or her job to hear me out. She told us that we may visit the centre for any problems! I was so impressed that I am perhaps trying to join them as a volunteer and read out my posts, stories to interested people. The place provides optimism that there shall be listeners. She encouraged me that I apply and work for couple of hours over the weekend. She told me I can provide lot of help to the youngsters here even in things like resume writing abilities, working globally and did not undermine my narrating ability either. I am interested and thus let me see.


While ending this post, I feel I must repeat what I started with – we need to mend our country and that can happen only when we take the risk of maturing! The outside world is not of bad English of text message styles, gizmos, clubs, pubs, living-ins, gay parade, pornography and what not! It is beyond these and is about lot of hard physical and mental work.  It is about everyone trying their bit to preserve what is their own and taking pride in it. It is about fun and games but not to an extent where most children end up feeling restricted. It is about superior service delivery and adhering to timelines. It is about behaving nicely and smiling to people. It is about transparency and yes most importantly it is mutual respect and acknowledgement.





  1. Good to see that you are writing again. 🙂 While reading your post naturally children part caught my attention. These days I am constantly thinking about dos and don’ts of parenting. But I agree with freedom part. Most of the time I let my daughter be herself. So whenever she goes down with me she plays in freshly cut heap of grass (try to put all of it on her head and balance it), in mud (shouting bajrang bali ki jai, don’t know from where she picked up that), in puddles of water, drawing various shapes in mud, hanging on the branches of tree (of course with my help). You have to be here to watch the expression on mothers’ face. They won’t allow their precious ones to play with my daughter. Recently she started sensing those disapprovals and smirks. Because in the process she acquires lots of dirt and mud on her face and clothes. One day she was saying. “mere saath koi nahi khel raha hai!” So you can imagine if I allow my child to be a child what happens here. I don’t find her dresses too costly to be doused in mud. But may be for them….

  2. I am glad that you are somewhere else and finding time for writing and volunteer work. Keep it up!

  3. Thank you for voicing the good memories, Tanmoy. I can vouch from bitter personal experience that things have been steadily growing worse in India by all cultural indicators. 150-plus years ago a man called Vidyasagar went around Bengal setting up public libraries, knowing that nothing better spread the light of knowledge and culture. 40 years ago, when I was a child, it was considered perfectly okay to gift people books on the occasion of their marriage. All through my teaching life, however, I have heard parents griping that I ‘misguide’ youngsters and ‘waste their time’ by urging them to read books. It goes without saying that the St. Xavier’s Durgapur library has gone to the dogs since I quit: and I rarely meet anyone who thinks that that is an unmitigated disaster.

    There are two things that today’s parents won’t listen to any argument about: there’s no point in living if you can’t get a (preferably IT-related) job, and reading anything except examination cram-books makes it difficult to get a job. So don’t read, period. And as for visiting museums and art galleries … I can assure you that today’s Indian parents are going to have a fit!

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