Mumbai Cricket Association has a golden opportunity to uplift an institution that welcomes patrons, players & fans in equal measure
If there is something at Wankhede Stadium that needs critical care, it is the Dr HD Kanga Memorial Library.
Hence, it was sweet music to one’s ears when this newspaper reported recently that the 66-year-old library (yes, it is even older than the 41-year-old Wankhede Stadium) has been given a Rs 25-lakh grant to spend on its new home, which will be built soon.
The Dr HD Kanga Memorial Library’s present home is a basement at the northern end of the Wankhede Stadium in Churchgate. Pic/Atul Kamble
The Kanga Library is nothing short of an institution, one that afforded cricket lovers a chance to step on hallowed territory when it was housed at the northern end of the Brabourne Stadium and later, at the Wankhede. One did not have to be a cricketer or cricket administrator to become a member of the library. On non-match days, the only way a common man could get access to the Wankhede Stadium’s cricketing premises was through a visit to the Kanga Library. It welcomed everybody.
The Mumbai Cricket Association must be commended for realising the importance of this institution. Finally, the library’s members can be assured of better reading facilities at Asia’s only sports library.
In April 2013, this newspaper carried a front-page article on the poor condition of several priceless Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks that the library boasts of. Instead of being alarmed and rallying around each other to stem the decay, a few in the MCA raised questions as to how a reporter could come in, take photographs of the damaged books and write a story.
Thankfully, the secretary of the library played it right and called a pest control expert for a cure. This reporter was called as well. It was pointed out that the cupboard in which the Wisdens were placed was most vulnerable to the elements. Thus, the most revered annuals in the history of cricket were transferred to another cupboard. For the time being, the books are safe and the latest grant to the library will help it live up to its reputation.
The MCA’s Jt Honorary Secretary Dr Unmesh Khanvilkar, who has identified some rare books that require treatment, will do well to make Kanga Library the best reference cell in sporting India. The Cricket Club of India has the Anandji Dossa reference library, overlooking the Brabourne Stadium, but membership is not open to public. That library has year-by-year paper clippings maintained by the late ace statistician Dossa from 1930 to 2000. I remember Dossa telling me that he chose to donate all his books and clippings to the CCI because he was not convinced that they would be well maintained at Kanga Library. He was right. Dossa never had a nasty word for anybody, but the state of the Kanga Library used to get his goat.
In the 1980s, one librarian appeared helpless when books were stolen from the library. This period was vastly different to what veteran statistician Sudhir Vaidya experienced in the 1960s. Since Vaidya needed more time for his research, he requested the then secretary HN Contractor to allow him to stay on for more than the permitted couple of hours when the library was at the Brabourne Stadium. Vaidya was allowed big extensions on the condition that he deposited the keys at the CCI for Rosario, the librarian, to reopen it the next day.
Thanks to the library, Vaidya, now based in Pune, compiled his ever-popular book Figures of Cricket which went into several editions and a biography of Vinoo Mankad. Vaidya hasn’t forgotten that generosity.
Many in Mumbai’s journalistic fraternity can’t forget the library’s contribution to their growth. Like former sports writer and commentator Arvind Lavakare, who wrote in the library’s golden jubilee souvenir: “The Kanga Library is a place of warmth; it’s a place where, at nine in the morning, one can for an hour or so, go back to the Good Days of Neville Cardus, or participate in a Goal by Dhyan Chand before becoming one with the busy humanity outside. Between four and seven later in the day, a schoolboy, collegian, or clerk can take home Dicky Rutnagur’s Annual for vicarious delight in the cricket deeds of the season.”
I have great memories of the library when it was housed below the Bombay Cricket Association office at Wankhede Stadium. It used to be open for a little more than an hour in the mornings as well and making full use of a membership that came cheap was a massive thrill. To be told then that even Sunil Gavaskar visited the library in his playing days made you want to read more about the batting maestro’s exploits on the Wankhede Stadium turf just a few metres away.
In later years, the MCA decided to build a conference room within the library. The charm vanished and bound volumes of sports magazines, an integral part of the library, had to be stored in kit bags above the giant cupboards.
Clearly, the golden years had been swept away. Now, the library is temporarily housed at the bowels of the Wankhede Stadium.
The late Prof MV Chandgadkar, that faithful servant of Mumbai cricket, couldn’t have been more right when he ended his History of Bombay Cricket with the words, “the Library is the child of the Association.”
The MCA’s new plans for the library notwithstanding, Chandgadkar’s words must reverberate emphatically.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org