Over the years I have developed a passion for reading. As a child I wasn’t as passionate as I am now. Perhaps, the roots of this new hobby of mine go back a few years when I first visited the Punjab Public Library.
Hidden away in the folds of the ancient Mall Road, this building does not get the recognition it deserves. The floors are tiled unlike the modern libraries with wooden floors. The lighting is dim and you have to squint to try to read a book. The only light entering the dark magical building is the sunlight penetrating the dusty windows.
Walking up the staircase to each level, chills run down my back. The building is cut off from the rest of the busy world on the Mall. The guide left me to myself as I walked past the shelves running my fingers over the worn out spines of books lining the wooden shelves. It is somewhere during my brief visits to the library that I grew to love books and the stories they enclosed within themselves.
It’s painful to see how neglected the place has been. It’s a sanctuary for some of us -- to escape the external world, hoping to lose ourselves in a good book, leaving behind our problems and woes.
Although it takes a while to locate anything in the numerous shelves it’s worth the search. Just like any library, you are issued a card. Next, they stamp the return date on a piece of paper attached to the back of the book.
I distinctly remember once being overdue by a week as I was busy in school and couldn’t return the book in time. I rushed inside, holding the fine money I had to pay. But the librarian refused to take it. He smiled at me warmly and told me that he recognised me since I visited the place quite often. I returned his smile and retreated to a corner of the top floor where the literature books were stashed away.
I became accustomed to the musty smell throughout the building to which I became more and more attached with time.
It’s been years since my last visit to the library. I found it hard to take out time in my schedule as a student and, instead, opted to have my choice of books home-delivered to me through an online service. The books are the same -- written by the same authors -- however, there was something unique about picking up a random book out of a shelve in a library by an author I had never before heard of and flipping through the pages delving deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters.
No matter how many bookstores open up in the city, they will never be able to provide the experience of wandering through a library not knowing what book you may come across.
Times have changed. No one picks up a book anymore. Instead, they use their gadgets and smartphones to read them online. But it’s just not the same. I’m ashamed to say that with time even I’ve gone over to the dark side as it was more ‘convenient.’ But to make up for my sins I returned to the musty building once again.
Despite everything that had changed within the city over the year, the Punjab Public Library remained the same for me -- with its warm welcome to passionate readers.