It was 2012. We landed in India, after a trip to Singapore.
‘You know what I’ll miss the most?’ I said.
‘Hmm. I know,’ Mumma replied.
Little did I know that three years later that ‘Hmm’ would result in the opening of a library!
My journey with books, it is said, began with a picture book on dinosaurs. I still have that book. It is torn, has food-stains, but it continues to survive. I don’t remember when my love for reading began though. It doesn’t matter how far I look back, books were always a part of my life. In fact, Mum says I used to be upset and confused when I met someone who didn’t love books. But I gradually learnt that not everyone loves books. I still feel bad for them.
With the beginning of school came libraries. I was looking forward to this bit because in many books that I had read, libraries were described, as places were children could read books, come and go when they want, issue any books that they want, and return them when done and not wait for one whole week! And then there were the million adventures that unfolded between shelves. That’s how I thought libraries would be in real life too.
The school library came as a rude awakening. It was not like the libraries that you read about in the books where kids can just be! You have to walk in neat lines, sit at one place, and you just get five minutes to pick a book! You can’t issue any book that you want. Imagine if I, a ninth grader, issued a book for an early reader or a so called girl’s book!’ My classmates would never let me forget that!
We could not wander away to choose a different book, neither could we come to the library anytime we want. We could go there only when we had the “library periods”.
I gave up. The libraries in books were clearly fictional.
But then we went to visit our cousins in Singapore. The National Library at Singapore proved that dreamy librariesindeed existed. Unfortunately, we visited this library on the last day of our visit. I had found the place of my dreams. But only for a few hours.
I came back home, with a heavy heart, but a big plan. Our own library! In my home. For my friends! This involved a lot of arguing, shouting and then grumbled agreements, after a glare from Mumma, about which books we would be keeping in the library. Both my brother and I were clinging on to the favourite ones! Library cards were designed and posters made. We were, needless to say, disappointed when no one showed up! The posters were eventually used up as rough sheets for maths, and for designing paper planes. Some just ended up in the bin.
The idea of opening a library was dropped.
Last year, we got new shelves, made a tiny reading corner at home, and Mum discovered a book-scanning App. These events triggered the library idea all over again and I started scanning the books in the hope that one day all would be scanned and then I could issue them out! We have too many books. And far too less of free time. So it didn’t happen. Again.
This year, out of the blue, Mum declared that she was going to open a library. I casually said, ‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t too sure about it all working out. There were many reasons. One was that I was sure about not getting many books, because they are expensive. Ours were rationed, after all. Another was that I thought we wouldn’t get any readers, because there just aren’t many.
But behold! Books started coming in! The day the first carton of books came, it was ripped open. We were surprised at the number of books that were donated!
There were all sorts of books in there with their distinct memories tucked between pages–we found a postcard, a picture, a school certificate, and two hotel bills. And the smell! They were all old, wise, and widely read. The doubts were beginning to melt.
Helping out in the library involves working for hours with dusty books, new books, books of all shapes and sizes–it’s just the kind of thing that I love! At first, it was endless hours of opening up cartons of books and sorting them. Just when we’d be done with one carton, another one would arrive. After that, we moved on to scanning them and vehemently disagreeing about age groups. Then came the nightmare of sticking the different types of labels. Of course, I tricked some of my friends to help me with it. That bit was fun!
After the sorting, scanning and sticking came my favourite part: Shelving them! I admit, I forbade everyone from touching the shelves till I was done. And so, it will take me a long time to get things in order. There are too many things to take care of–size, genre, series, publisher–you get the drift.
All this helped me learn some things about myself. The most important thing being that I can always get a job as a librarian when I grow up. On a, well, deeper level, there was a warm glow of happiness inside me because I was helping in spreading the joy of reading to others. By reading I don’t mean Ruskin Bond, Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling. These are wonderful but then there are others too. I am looking forward to my friends discovering the works of other wonderful authors like Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull. Chris Bradford and Anushka Ravishankar to name a few!
I know it will be tough to get people to read. There is too much of academics and too little time for anything else. To add to it, a lot of people think reading is useless. But it will happen and the library will grow from one room to many floors. I just know it.
And one day, someone from Singapore, on his way back will say, “You know what I’ll miss the most?”
Ishaan Singh studies in Class IX of DPS, Faridabad. He has just helped his mother to set up the Reading Raccoons Library in Faridabad.