Monday, March 07, 2011


I happened to read an interesting article in last Sunday's issue of the Los Angeles Times. It was by Pico Iyer on libraries titled 'Sanctuary amid the Stacks'. I am a huge fan of the US public library system and frequent the local libraries borrowing books as if there is no tomorrow. The Orange County Public Library system has 33 branches and allows you to borrow books from any of its branches for free. Even the Auburn Public Library had a really good collection I think I used to the fullest extent possible. Other public libraries I have frequented include the City Central Library (South End Circle, Bangalore) and the Indian Institute of World Culture in Bangalore. In the LATimes article, the author laments the demise of several public libraries here in America. He says:

Saving money by reducing library services is like trying to save a bleeding man by taking out his heart.
But if the library disappears, then we're really in trouble. A library is much more than a collection of books; it is a sanctuary, a symbol and both a model for community and its encouragement. Even those who make their living by nonverbal means know, as Keith Richards once declared, that "when you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is the great equalizer."

A library is not just a place where many have lost themselves (as it's hard to do in the increasing clamor of a bookstore); it's where countless souls — and surely a good percentage of students — slowly find themselves.

The only alternative to a public library is the personal library, a sanctuary to which you can retreat to on any day, irrespective of the time of day and not worry about a laptop or kindle to read the book wherever you want to. It has been my dream to build a personal library of books that can last a generation, books that you can read again and again and still learn something new every time you read them, books that can educate you, guide you and enlighten you.

Reading this article compounded the grief of my recent loss of over a hundred of my invaluable books, a loss which, according to me, can be equated to possibly very few other sorrows. I lost my entire collection of Kannada books that were shipped here. Aside from the monetary value, there were books that were close to my heart; among others a few Vedic/Upanishadic texts, works by Bhyrappa, Kuvempu and over a dozen works by DVG, a Sandhyavandane book given by a very very close relative during my upanayanam, an anthology of Kannada poems autographed by the author over 40 years ago! Moreover, I had spent several trips to India to get those books to the US hiding them between clothes to prevent my parents from looking at them, lest they force me to exchange them for saarina puDi (ಸಾರಿನ ಪುಡಿ), huLi puDi (ಹುಳಿ ಪುಡಿ), eatables, etc. Also, I lost 3 boxes of technical/miscellaneous books purchased in second hand bookstores, library sales, etc over a period of 5 years.

Life makes you start over again and again when you think you are getting somewhere.