I had recently visited the Center for Contemporary Theory to attend a presentation of a paper. The Center has an extensive collection and the website has a complete documentation of the library, so one could preplan one’s reading quota/plot ones reading list online!
I was introduced to Nimisha Desai, the founder of Olakh, by Albertina Almeida, a lawyer and activist, who I had met through work I had once done for the Bailancho Saad, a women’s organization in Goa which wanted paintings for a traveling exhibition, that was to be a part of a campaign of AIDS awareness.
Olakh will be on its fifteenth year soon. The team works with the dissemination and discussion of feminist philosophies through workshops, meetings, and a library database of resources on feminism and related fields of equality, and it has a rapidly growing lending library and archive of periodicals, journals, books (fiction and non-fiction), and newsletters – in English, Hindi and Gujrati - as well as cupboards of movies and documentaries which are also a part of the lending library. In response to an SMS from a friend who works as the chief coordinator (“loads of new bk arrivals. Drop in, u’ll lv it”) I made a pronto trip! My recent make away of books right out of the boxes they came in were Alice Walker’s ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’, Maya Angelou’s ‘The Heart of a Woman’, and a Penguin Anthology of Medieval Jain Stories- ‘The Forest of Thieves and The Magic Garden’.
I landed up at the Central library in Mandvi because of my nostalgia for the home away from home that the Central Library in Panjim, Goa was for me during my school and college years. The Central library in Mandvi is a very different story - and here I only speak of the English section, (I was told that the vast Gujarati collection is quite phenomenal, though an added remark was that the librarian’s guard many books like they would fall apart if touched – and perhaps they would because dust pervades everything indiscriminately). The English section has not been seriously updated since the eighties/seventies. The layer of dust everywhere makes it a perfect place for some self-appointed social work. I joined it for the five to ten books that caught my eye and because I like the excitement of not knowing what one will find – a kind of treasure hunt through randomness, and unlike a bookshop, the bare (government subsidized) monetary involvement makes the search even more hopeful.
An added two-pronged problem in this library is- a) the books are all over the place and
b) They are bound and many don’t have titles printed on the spines.
If the ‘reader in English’ ventures into this heritage building the best alternative may be to do a survey of the whole section row by row, make a reading list, and put in your resignation as a member after systematically making the most of it! The English section is not too big so this is a possibility. The books I’ve read from the Central Library so far are the Sarai Reader 04: Crisis/Media. (which gives you an idea of what I mean by a surprise find! – found because it was unbound!), Vijayan Ottupulakkal Velukutty’s The Legends of Khasak, and quite a few of a number of wonderful books by Nadine Gordimer. ‘The Travels of Ibn Battuta’ was excitedly spotted on my first visit, but though I did search, it was never seen again.