Rare Asiatic books get Rs 3 lakh boost from Mumbai citizens

Oct 27, 2017, 17:51 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

Mumbaikars love their books, and they aren't going to let them rot -- at least, that's what a new digitisation initiative in the city has managed to establish

Mumbaikars love their books, and they aren't going to let them rot -- at least, that's what a new digitisation initiative in the city has managed to establish. A few weeks after NGO Mumbai First announced the Adopt a Book initiative to preserve the city's rare books, around 300 Mumbaikars opened their hearts and purse strings.

Some old books that will be restored at the library

They raised Rs 3 lakh on the crowd-funding site Impact Guru to save valuable books at the 200-year-old Asiatic Library. After the overwhelming response, the campaign has been extended for another 60 days. The cost of digitisation varies from book to book. It could start anywhere from R4 for two pages to R9 per page, if the book is being microfilmed -- reproducing a document on film. The average cost of digitisation and microfilming of one book is R10,000.

A costly affair
Andheri-resident Geetanjali Kaul, 41, who is a theatre artist, adopted documents by donating Rs 21,000. "To me each book holds special meaning. Books have changed my perception about life. Because I understand all the sentiments involved with books, I couldn't see these books rot at the library. Hence, I decided to join the initiative."

Publisher Preeti Vyas, 43, not only adopted books by donating Rs 3,000, but also arranged an additional amount of R1 lakh by organising a story writing campaign on social media.

An Asiatic  Library staffer in the process of restoring a book

"We asked people to submit stories on three topics and our sponsor paid Rs 1,000 per submission. At the end of the campaign, more than 100 entries were received and most of them were from children. This way, we arranged for Rs 1lakh and gave the money directly to the library for digitisation."

She added, "As responsible citizens, we should not allow historical books to simply gather dust in the library. We need to preserve it for our future."

Geetanjali Kaul, donor

The way forward
Explaining why the initiative was launched, Shishir Joshi, chief executive officer of Mumbai First, that is the brain behind the initiative, said, "Many of the books in the library need immediate digitisation. Digitisation and microfilming are two ways that ensure that books are not lost and can be accessed by future generations through other mediums as well."

Preeti Vyas, donor

Maharashtra Governor Vidyasagar Rao had first inaugurated the digitisation programme for the library in 2015. At the time, the government provided Rs 5 crore to the library to make digital copies of about 50,000 documents. However, the money has already been used to preserve around 30,000 documents At last count, around 28,000 books, 2,200 reports, maps and old newspapers have been digitised. The library will need more funds to preserve the remaining books.

Sharad Kale, president of the library, was unavailable for comment.

The history

Established in 1802, the Asiatic Society Town Hall, now known as Asiatic Library, holds a significant importance in the history of the city. This is where Queen Victoria’s proclam­ation took place after the East India Company was abolished. The library holds significant and rare treasures, including the original Italian manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, 16th century Sanskrit manuscript Aranyaka Parvan of the Mahabh­arata, the Sopara relics, among many others. It also houses artefacts that are believed to be fragments from the Buddha’s begging bowl.

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