Turning a new leaf in Andheri
A branch of one of India's biggest community libraries is a haven for bibliophiles, with an impressive selection of titles
There's a sense of calm when you step inside a library that's hard to beat. Cars are honking ceaselessly on the roads. The rare monsoon sun is beating down. The tumult of human population is growing louder by the minute. But you leave all that behind as soon as you enter the cool, serene confines of a library. The silent books stacked up neatly in organised sections look therapeutic. The sombre librarian seems like a far cry from all the people outside melting in the heat. And as you choose a title and start leafing through the pages, you gently drift off into a different world where the reality of daily existence is negated.
That's the sort of experience you get at the JustBooks outlet in Andheri, the newest branch of one of India's biggest community libraries to have opened in the city. It's located at the corner of a peaceful bylane in Lokhandwala, at the far end of a line of shops. Large glass doors reveal the promise of a literary escape from the chaos outside even before you enter. Once in, a relaxed librarian, Jayanth Shetty, greets you and tells you how the books are divided. There's non-fiction on the right, books for teens in the near corner, regional titles in the far end, and fiction — divided into sub-genres like romance, mystery and thrillers — on the left. The selection spans close to 6,000 volumes, from detective stories like the ones in Agatha Christie's novels to bestsellers like Omerta by Mario Puzo to more contemporary titles like Lily Singh's How to be a Bawse. And each book is in mint condition with a transparent cover that protects it from fraying, as it
happens sometimes with second-hand books.
The initiative started in Bengaluru in 2000. That's where the head office is located and Saraswathi Sheshadri, who operates the Lokhandwala outlet, tells us that there are over 60 branches across Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and Pune. The reason it's called a community library, she adds, is because if you log on to their website and ask for a particular title, they will source it from any of their outlets across the four cities if the branch closest to you doesn't have it. The membership plans are divided on the basis of borrowing two, three or four books across a three-month, six-month or yearly period. The cost fits every pocket and Sheshadri says that the people who sign up range from five- to 91-year-olds, the age of their oldest member.
That last reason is also why she feels that despite the emergence of the digital age — when e-books and audiobooks are in direct competition with paperbacks — the concept of a library isn't even close to dying out. Sheshadri tells us, "There has been a spurt in digital mediums in the past few years, but a person who is an avid and passionate reader will always come back to books. It's not just about reading, but also about the feel and comfort that hard copies provide. And libraries help people open up their imagination at a really young age. It's not just a logical bent of mind that's necessary for a person to succeed in life. You also need to have the ability to think creatively. I know of a school, for instance, that makes reading a book mandatory for students for half an hour every day. The kids drop everything they are doing and pick up a book in that period."
It's towards that end that the JustBooks outlet she runs hosts informal book readings and workshops for kids as well, so that the magical world of literature opens up to children. So, check the library out or log on to their website because at the end of the day, the habit of reading provides us with an escape route that gives us a breather in the maddening lives we lead.
Find the title
JustBooks has three other outlets at Thane (21730784), Mulund (21631439) and Nerul (27729788). Some of the titles that caught our eye in the Lokhandwala branch are:
1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, the world's best-selling mystery novel.
2. Notes from a Small island, Bill Bryson's humorous account of an American's life in England.
3. Roots, Alex Haley's moving account of a black man's journey in America.
TIME 10 am to 8 pm (closed on Mondays)
AT Shop no 1, building no 1, ground floor, CSL Block Sector, Shastri Nagar Lane 1, Andheri West
Cost Rs 288 per month depending on the plan you choose
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