Mumbai: With restoration on at Central Library, readers brave heat in shed

With restoration on at Central Library, readers brave heat in shed to pursue literary passions

The Central Library at Fort, within the iconic Town Hall complex has been closed since December last year. Restoration work is being undertaken by city-based heritage architect, Abha Narain Lambah and is expected to finish in August. With the magnificent library out of bounds, periodicals have been shifted to a makeshift tin shed, just a few feet away. People are reading in the shed, braving the heat, which is exaggerated because of the asbestos roof. Ceiling fans fight a valiant but losing battle against the merciless April mercury.

The Central Library within the magnificent Town Hall complex
The Central Library within the magnificent Town Hall complex

Vijay Rikame, librarian in-charge of the newspapers and magazines, ensured that there was silence in the shed, when we visited. In fact, the only sound was the rustle of papers and books by students who were immersed in their books, studying feverishly for upcoming or ongoing exams.

A tin shed now functions as a reading room. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
A tin shed now functions as a reading room. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

The space in the shed is limited compared to the huge library. Jason D’lima, English Literature student at St Xavier’s College said, “Often, post 2 pm, all seats in the shed are taken as a large number of people traipse in at this time. Fans do dispel some heat but because of the asbestos roof, it is baking like an oven.”

Priti Anand, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph D) student said, “The staff has a tough time locating books when they are asked as the books are stored in a cupboard, unlike earlier, when they were on shelves and we could browse them ourselves, and, in the process find books that we did not know even existed! Now it has become troublesome. I have started using the David Sassoon library instead, even though I paid my membership fee here.”

The strong sunlight, throwing its rays on the library door was not enough to illuminate a notice pasted on the door, stating that the library is closed for renovation. Nazia Pathan, Colaba housewife, trudged up several Asiatic steps before she could read the notice. She said, “They need to put up a bigger notice, probably near the start of the steps. I thought reference books were in the shed, it was only after I sat there that I realised that there were only newspapers and magazines inside and the books, available only to members now, unlike earlier, when non-members could refer to them, had been shifted inside.”

Not everybody is unhappy though. Aman Khan, media student from KC College said, “This is the best place to refer to old newspapers — both Indian as well as international. They have a good regional paper collection, too. Even though work is on, that has not been disrupted my reading schedule.”

Competitive exam students were aplenty, braving conditions in the shed. “Though the library is closed, they have this space for us to study. This is a blessing. I live in Vasai and my centre is at CST for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) exams. I prefer to come here and study as it is quiet, and close to my centre,” finished Raghu Bajaj, one amongst those who are making the best of the situation.

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