In the old world, there used to be libraries

Abhijeet Kini
Saturday, 6 October 2018

I have been visiting Mangalore since childhood, spending my summer holidays at my grandparents’ place. I used to dread the end of the holidays and going back to school, so I used to enjoy all the good food and jokes.

I have been visiting Mangalore since childhood, spending my summer holidays at my grandparents’ place. I used to dread the end of the holidays and going back to school, so I used to enjoy all the good food and jokes. One very specific memory was that of my uncle taking me to an old library there, to load up on comics to read. The first sight of that heap of comics was enough to make me go into the comics wonderland! 

I used to carry home more comics than I could manage, but the struggle was totally worth it. All the early exposure to the Green Lantern Corps, Blue Beetle, Conan, Mad and so on was thanks to this little library.
 
On my recent trip to Mangalore, I got to know that the said library was shutting down soon. It’s easy for us to turn sentimental and wish against such closures (and why not!), but in today’s times of phones, tablets and the internet, it is saddening to see that the entire culture of ‘reading’ has taken a backseat. Sure, we all read stuff on our screens, but it isn’t the same as picking up a book and leafing through its pages. This, of course, is a very cliched and over-used statement that I have made here. But isn’t it true? Some years ago, for me, bookshops were the place to be at, when it came to having some quality me-time. I won’t name any brands here, but there were a few gigantic bookshops in Mumbai. I used to head there whenever I could, and would dart straight into the graphic novels and comics section. Never before had I seen such collections anywhere. The smell of books, the feel of the pages, the artwork glistening over the glossy covers... ah the good times! But as the saying goes, change is the only constant. I won’t start on the debate whether this change is good or bad, that’s not for me to decide. But something somewhere has died.
 
When I got to know that the old library is selling off its books before shutting down, I requested my uncle if I could go pick some up too. The owner of the library is his friend, and was kind enough to let me come over before I left for Mumbai. As I entered the main door, I realised I was going to miss the smell, the quiet air of a library. The old, dank, musty whiffs of paper are not at all repulsive. They keep growing on you with every minute you spend in there. The owner looked at me and asked me with a wry smile, ‘So, you’ve come to raid my library?’ I’m sure he said it in a jovial way, but I’m also aware of what this must have meant to him. I proceeded towards the comics section, and was welcomed by my old friends…the hardbound Tinkle, the tattered but fun Mad magazines, the dusty Marvel comics, Batman, Tintin and Asterix — all of which stood the test of time, and wear and tear. 

I picked up as many as I could, all the time thinking, ‘I’m taking with me a small slice of my childhood back home’. On my way out, I conveyed to the owner that these comics will be kept with care and an equal amount of love as he had for them. They are sitting proudly in my comics collection bookshelf. 

Wish things were different. Wish people could read more, or at least as much as they used to. Libraries and book shops were and still are important to human existence. Online shopping and e-books never even come close. As for me, just like in my school summer holidays, I carried home more comics than I could manage. Just that this time they would not be returned to the library.
(The writer is a comic creator, illustrator and animator)

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