Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | November 12, 2008

Library yes, but weird

A common sign inside any library in India is : ” Silence, please”. Any library that I have visited in India has these sign with the exception of Bandhab Samiti Pathagar at Chetla in Kolkata. Bandhab Samiti Pathagar is one of the most unique institute that I have ever visited during my lifetime, and I believe even though it was not the ideal library, it’s intent was not bad. Now what was so unique about it?

I am sure Bandhab Samiti must have been one of the clubs established by freedom fighters in India some hundred years back to do community services and physical exercises. The Pathagar (which is the Bengali of the word library), was part of that community service exercise. It is very typical of Kolkata that some of the old institutions and shops have the year of establishment displayed on them on their entrance and Bandhab Samiti was not an exception to that rule. While I am writing this, I feel a trifle sad, that I did not click two photographs when I used to visit this place nearly twelve years back which could have showed you the entrance that I am talking about and the library inside! I don’t even know whether the place exists today. Sigh!

Still I shall try and explain to the best of my ability.

Bandhab Samiti Pathagar was housed inside a room on the ground floor of a building. It was a square room which was not more than 15 ft X 15 ft, but had a high ceiling. One could only enter that room after keeping their footwear outside. Once inside the room, one would find five obese ladies and a rude old man sitting on a mattress on the ground with small footstool kind of tables infront of them. They sat in a circular manner so the little space that was left was for the people who would require their service. The books are stacked behind them in racks that extended till the ceiling. One man was perpetually on top of a ladder, so that he could access the books. If these were the staff of the library, then you did not have a catalogue to choose that books that you shall read or even access the books yourself. Since, this library only had study reference books, you have to come pre-determined regarding the book you want. The library did not have any space for the tremendous crowd of students it attracted, so when one became a member one had days assigned to oneself as the visitors day. Trust me, every day that you enter the library, you would have a queues infront of those ladies.

The process was fairly simple. You have two minutes with those ladies. In those two minutes, you would tell the name of the book you want to borrow, she shall shout the name to the person in the ladder, if the book is available then he shall take 5 minutes to get the book and you get it and get out! The other formalities of updating the library cards and communication of due date did not take any time. Nobody even had expectations of asking unnecessary questions to annoy the staff and did not even dared to spend more than 10 minutes inside the library unless one was in a queue. If they did, they were literally abused by the only man on the ground and virtually booted out!

I know, it is not the ideal library and very funny but Bandhab Samiti Pathagar had virtually every reference books that Calcutta University and Jadavpur University professors have ever spoken about. The membership fees were not much either and that is why it was over-crowded.

Yes, it did not have the “Silence, please” board either but none dared to breach its unique disciplinary code since the staff were amusingly strict.

I wonder whether such a library can be found only in Kolkata? I do feel these institutes did have noble ideas.

My post was necessitated by my amazement after seeing that Auckland central library doesn’t have a single sign of “Silence, please”, and nobody disturbs the peace there. However, I have digressed a fair bit while I was trying to remember, if I have ever been to any library which does not have that sign.

In the entire process, I started remembering about Bandhab Samiti Pathagar – one of the most weird places I would ever have visited. I wish I could take some of people to visit the place.

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Responses

  1. Really a library of its kind I have to say! the best library I have seen so far is British council I was a member there for 2 yrs. Except for the occasional ring tones of some callous people,it looked to be the most silent places of all, to concentrate on what u want to read.although,it lacked in the variety of books unlike ur above mentioned library.Chetla is very near to my place.I will try to find out if it still exists!

  2. Hi Arnab, this library is just opposite the kalighat gurdwara. If this still exists do click some pictures of it and let me know..thanks!

  3. okk.i know the kalighat gurdwara. But did’nt ever care to notice carefully if some library exists opposite to it.i will definitely try next time.

  4. In a civilised country, those who have laboured quietly and earnestly for years and decades to keep such a library going would have been lionized with national recognition, and they would have been inundated with funds and ideas about how to improve and expand its facilities. How we treat our parks, hospitals, museums and libraries goes a very very long way to define just how civilised we are.

    Measured on such an index, India would be forever stuck somewhere near the bottom of the pile. But I am sure 99% of Indians will be quite content, so long as they have their mobile phones, cars, shopping plazas, and endless freedom to shirk work of all kinds, gorge and gossip night and day!

    Horror of horrors: suppose, thanks to Bollywood combined with our ongoing economic ‘progress’ India did become an ideal of sorts to the rest of the world someday. What is the world going to learn and emulate from us, I wonder?

  5. Dear Tanmoyda,

    I have been thinking for sometime whether I should be having a blog or not. All of you write so well. Who will read me?

    But now I have finally decided to have a blog. I have made my blog in ‘Blogger’ itself. The name of my blog is – My Third Eye.

    In recent times I have discovered a genuine fondness for photography. To me, photography is a brilliant medium to portray the world. It appeals to me more than videography. Capturing the world and its people in still images is a very difficult task. Probably even in my eighties I will have to tell myself that photography is not for me. But right now I am trying; training my eye everytime I go outside. I am serious about this hobby. And I will carry on with it for years to come.

    In my blog I have posted a few pictures that I have taken in recent times. There are four categories. There is also another category which has my sketches.

    The URL is:

    http://clickmoments.blogspot.com/

    I will be glad if you pay a visit to it and post your thoughts. I hope others will pour their thoughts in soon.

    Regards,

    Subhanjan.

  6. yes tanmoy daa,it still exists! I saw it closed while passing by in the evening but I did see some stacks of books inside through the windows.The room was illuminated. so I presume it is still working.I don’t have a personal camera though at present to capture it. sorry for that.

  7. Thank you Tanmoy, your little story is a gem.

    The people running this library are doing real good work, although they never in the limelight. And I guess they get a pittance for their services.

    It would be nice to hear about more such people, either from you or from the people who read your blog.

  8. Thank you Tanmoy, your little story is a gem.

    The people running this library are doing real good work, although they are never in the limelight. And I guess they get a pittance for their services.

    It would be nice to hear about more such ordinary men and women who render extraordinary services, either from you or from the people who read your blog.


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