The Library

Episode 1 | Read time: 5 mins

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The Library

No one came to the library anymore. That is why it was my favorite place in the world.

I sat there for hours working on my final year project. My thesis was on how most of the context was lost in translation when writing was translated into English from their native language with examples of Dostoevsky, Murakami, etc. The topic was difficult as finding original works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy on the internet was a task. Also, as I wasn’t fluent in Russian or Japanese, most of my time went into learning new words from their respective dictionaries. The library helped with all the obscure material I needed and I always wondered, why don’t people come here more often?

I lived in a small one-room apartment in the western suburb of Andheri in Mumbai. The only great thing about it was that it was just five minutes away from the local railway station from where I caught a train every morning at 7 AM on the Western line. It took forty-five minutes, if I caught the fast train, to reach Churchgate in South Mumbai. The library was another short ten-minute walk from Churchgate station and I’d usually reach around the same time Mrs. Fernandez opened the library. If I was early, I’d usually light up a cigarette and have tea at a nearby stall and wait for her.

Mrs. Fernandez was the librarian for the past twenty-five years. She had five more years before she could retire and the thought of it broke her heart. She loved this place more than anyone else. More than me also. She knew every nook and corner, every book and its resting place, and had read almost everything in there. If your passion is reading, then there is no better place than a library and no better career than a librarian.

I had been coming to the library for the past four years. I’d find my favorite spot next to a huge window facing north-east so that I’d have natural light coming in for most of the day. The window glass had been shattered decades ago and was replaced with a thin wired net that let the breeze in time and again. Once I settled down, I’d remove my writing pad, my notes journal, my second-hand iPad, a garage-sale mechanical keyboard refurbished to fit in Bluetooth, a few pens of different colors, and my bottle of water. I’d fill up the bottle at the cooler next to Mrs. Fernandez’s table first and then my day would start. The library was home to me, I was comfortable there. I’d pick out the material that I needed for the day and I’d start taking notes in my journal. I’d look up difficult Russian and Japanese words in the dictionary, make a note of them in my writing pad. Red pen for Japanese words, yellow for Russian, and blue for English. I had divided my day into two halves. The first half for research and the second half for writing. Till lunch, I’d meticulously make notes that would finally make it into my thesis. At 12 noon, I’d take thirty minutes for lunch. I’d go to a nearby Irani cafe and usually order keema pav and tea. I’d then light up another cigarette and just look at the world going past me as I stood rooted.

Post lunch, I’d connect my mechanical keyboard to my iPad and I would start pouring my notes onto a document. I’d take a short cigarette break at 3 PM before Mrs. Fernandez’s routine reminder call for me to pack up as the library shut at 4 PM. I’d check out a few books I would need for the night and walk back to Churchgate station, take the fast train back on the Western line, and reach my one-room apartment. This had been more or less my routine for the past four years. I didn’t see the point of going to college and attend lectures, I’d pick up the curriculum in the first week and then learn on my own at the library. At my apartment, I’d just keep revising my Russian and Japanese words, cook some light dinner, and continue reading & smoking. Apart from the Japanese and Russian writers, I loved reading Hemingway, Kafka, Vonnegut, Bukowski, and Mark Twain. My life till then revolved around good writers and cheap cigarettes.

The library taught me more than what I’d learn in my four years at college. The peace and solitude in that building were unparalleled. Mumbai was a city of 20 million but in the last 4 years, I’d hardly seen people come to the library. Most of them were either people who were lost in search of directions, a few tourists who thought the library was a museum and a few who thought there would be open positions for work.

Except for that fateful winter morning.

I met Shreya at the library…

To be continued…

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- Darshan Pania