DR H D Kanga Memorial Library, Asia’s biggest, and probably, only sports library no longer seems to be a matter of pride for the Mumbai Cricket Association.
Those who have been visiting the library since their days of youth believe it is in ruins on all fronts - condition of books, overall maintenance and administration. The 62-year-old library stands in the same place at the Wankhede Stadium where it shifted to from the North Stand of the Brabourne Stadium in 1975. But while the Wankhede has undergone renovation, this treasure house is begging for love, care and understanding.
The wait for a new building in the third phase of the Stadium's renovation is understandable; what is not is MCA’s lack of interest and enterprise for an institution of immeasurable value. The library has around 1000 members and according to the librarian, there are around 13,000 books. Life membership costs Rs 1000.
First-timers to the Wankhede Stadium won’t find the library without having to ask around simply because there are no sign boards leading to the premises which comes in between the plush Cricket Centre and the Wankhede Stadium. The dark alley leading to the library is indicative of the times.
The library’s first blow came in the late 1990s when the MCA decided to build a conference room within the library premises, something which took away 50 per cent of the original space. The same conference room is used as a site office. While the literary world of cricket is celebrating the launch of the 150th edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the only library in India that can boast of an impressive set of Wisdens dating back to the late 1880s is waiting to be treated better. The first edition was published in 1864.
A few days ago The Guardian newspaper in UK estimated that the cost of a complete set of Wisden Almanacks is 135,000 pounds, but Kanga Library’s Wisden collection is priceless. When MiD DAY got their hands on the 1885-86 and 1887 editions, it didn’t take long to discover that the books were feasted on by insects. The covers were loose and torn and the moth-eaten pages of history made for a sad sight.
Look out for some cloth to clean the books before you want to open them and you will get nothing. Look around the table where you have just placed cricket’s most revered book which historians call Bible and you will find stacks of other infected books (waiting to be treated and bound we are told).
Carelessly scattered books use up the tables meant for members to browse through reference material. Try sharing your angst with a fellow member and he’ll give you that helpless look which follows a whisper about the librarian being paid only Rs 2400 per month for a 5 pm to 8 pm job. The library is not exactly financially crippled. A balance of Rs 147,177.87 is shown in a booklet circulated to members at the 62nd Annual General Meeting on December 4, 2012.
The MCA, according to the library’s secretary and treasurer Ranjit Kapadia, sanctioned Rs five lakh towards maintenance and digitisation of the library. Kapadia says that the first phase of treating the books is completed, but the next one is “on the cards.” Around 300 books were damaged because of leakages, he informs while justifying the move to stock bound volumes of magazines in large bags that are placed atop the cupboards.
Marcus Couto, who is credited for his efforts in managing to put together all official information about Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli’s famous 664-run Harris Shield partnership to ensure the duo made it to the Guinness Book of World Records, is livid. “I have been bringing up the need to pest control the library and treat the books at AGMs and in letters. I don’t see any great effort made in ensuring the books are in good condition. However, some work on the books has been done because this time, I didn’t see crawling insects on the books,” says Couto.
“People running the show should have more passion towards this great library. If a loose approach is displayed, more books will be destroyed. It is important to think about what the great Vijay Merchant used to say: ‘Come and join Asia’s only sports library.’ Many books bear Merchant’s signature. Those are the ones he donated,” adds Couto, a first-class umpire. Several years ago, Couto donated a collection of cricket videos to be circulated among members. Today, he wonders what happened to all those tapes.
In 2000, the Kanga library celebrated its 50th year by releasing a commemorative volume in which Sunil Gavaskar wrote: “I recall with great pleasure the many visits to the Library to read books written by great cricketers and writers and it never ceased to surprise me how the library always had the book you wanted. It was a great learning process and inspirational too after reading about the exploits of the greats and how they worked hard to get where they were.”
Celebrated statistician Mohandas Menon, who is often praised for his ability and alacrity in star-packed television commentary boxes, says without hesitation that he wouldn't be where he is without the Kanga library. “Coming to the library for the first time in 1977 was memorable. I saw books that I never knew really existed.
The Kanga library has been my biggest source of information and I hope things improve and the younger generation benefits from it,” said Menon. Making Kanga library a better place for sports book-lovers may be a work in progress. But progress appears slow. Gone are the good old days, the old faithfuls will say, but better days must come.
Those were the days...
Cartoonist and former fast bowler Austin Coutinho said: “Back in the 1980s, Saturdays for me meant travelling from Chembur to town and spending the entire afternoon hunting for book bargains at Smokers Corner, at Ballard Estate, and then on the footpaths of Hutatma Chowk. The day wouldn’t end without a visit to the British Library and then a final session of reading at Kanga Library - where I am life member - at Wankhede Stadium. The latter had the best books and magazines on cricket and of course, you could meet all your cricketer friends there. I am told that the Kanga Library is in a bad state now, and the books are in a bad condition. I hope somebody takes charge and revives it, for there can be no better cricket archives anywhere in India.”
Kanga library didn’t get Dossa’s nod
Anandji Dossa, India’s oldest living statistician at 96, isn’t surprised to hear about the library’s current state. “I could see a drop in standards in the 1980s. When I decided to donate my entire collection of books and year-by-year newspaper clippings, I chose to give it to the CCI where I knew my books would be well looked after,” Dossa told MiD DAY on Thursday.
Sad to see the deterioration
Veteran statistician Sudhir Vaidya is proud of the fact that he is the second oldest member of the Kanga library. He remembers the day he enrolled as a member -February 28, 1958. “Anandji Dossa was the first (member). I owe a great deal to the library and I’m sad to see the deterioration. My entire evenings in my younger days were spent in the library. I used to close it myself at 8 pm before heading to my Thane residence. On Saturdays, I spent the whole day there,” said Vaidya.
Suburban library service shut
In November 1996, cricket umpire Dr Prakash Vaze realised his dream of witnessing the start the Eastern Suburban wing of the library at his dispensary in Mulund (East). “Commuting to Churchgate was difficult for cricket lovers so I thought of this idea which then secretary Ramesh Kosambia liked. “However, I had to shut it down around six years ago because the management couldn’t afford the costs involved. I managed to get around 100 members in a year’s time. “Unfortunately, the interest in sports books has not been exploited by the Kanga library management,” felt Vaze.
The membership fee for the Dr HD Kanga Memorial Library at Churchgate