By Vijay Phanshikar:
THE atmosphere of calm focus in the reading room of a public library was absolutely wonderful. A casual visit to the place in West Nagpur brought a sense of happiness that was beyond words to capture for description. There were at least fifty people in the large reading room, mostly congregated around a large table in the centre with nearly 25 chairs -- all occupied by people of all ages reading newspapers or magazines. There were many others in the large room browsing through book they must have borrowed to be taken home or returned immediately after reading.
There was a pin-drop silence in the large room, and even the noisy traffic just about a hundred feet away did not seem to disturb the calm. Certain spiritual spark passed through the spine as one entered the room. It was this spark that one had been missing for long decades. For, the last visit to any public library was decades ago, and the experience was almost lost to memory. But that visit rekindled the spark that sent a spiritual quiver up the spine, making one feel extremely happy to be back in a familiar atmosphere. At least for those moments when one was there, certain happiness pervaded the senses. One felt, it may not be factually correct that the people were forgetting their habit of reading.
For, here was a scene in which everybody seemed immersed in reading. Getting back home from work very late into that night, one finished the chores and rushed to the book shelves that are often so inviting, eager to welcome, anxious to open the repository of knowledge they hold in their folds. And the moment one opened the book on which fell one’s eyes first, everything changed -- the room became cooler, the hot stuffy air of the room closed through the day got lighter and fragrant with the inviting odour of the book. The pages lent out a musical sound of their crackle as one turned those. Wasn’t that close to something like a samadhi (trance, in loose translation)? -- one asked.
Yes, very much -- pat came the answer! One hasn’t had an experience of consuming anything else that may bring a sense of intoxication that offers only a false and momentary relief. But one has had a trance-like experience every time one opened a book -- each and every time one did it. The kind of protective cocoon the book forms around the reader is something nothing else can offer. This is the cocoon of peace, a shell of silence, a sanctuary of creative thinking, a zone of sublimation ...! The moment one gets a book in the hands, one gets transported to a nether or ether world in which one is the sole resident. Today, the social scene is beginning to show signs of a renewed inclination towards books in young people in particular.
For, in book stores, one meets many youngsters eagerly pursuing books. Recently in Pune, two kids in the family -- aged 10 and 6 -- picked up books worth thousands of rupees for their personal collections. And the moment they reached home, they just discarded their shoes somehow and plunged into the brand new pages giving out an invigorating scent. These are certainly welcome signs, assuring that the book culture may stage a great comeback. May this not remain only a hope, but convert itself into a solid social habit for all of us.