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Abandoned Treasures

By June 20, 2018No Comments

Source : The Shillong Times

The place was once abuzz (figuratively) with readers who took their picks from the rows of wide collection and quietly sat on the table in the small reading room. The chairs would be full and ardent readers had to wait for their turn. But now, Netaji Pathagar, which completed 71 years this April, is a picture of neglect and apathy of the generation for the library.

Now the chairs cry for visitors. Layers of dust cover the books, most of which are tattered, arranged on the numerous shelves. The library has lost most of its companions and remains uncared for in its old age.
Netaji Pathagar came up in 1947, before the country saw a new dawn. It is one of the oldest cradles of knowledge in Shillong and derived its name from freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, whose speech in Shillong inspired a generation of Bengalis in the hill state.

In fact, Rilbong Literary Institute, which was established by a group of erudite Bengalis, metamorphosed into Netaji Pathagar. The birth of the library in 1947 was symbolic and was a prelude to the new dawn that was about to come. For residents of Rilbong, it opened another window to the world and allowed the light of knowledge to penetrate through their souls.

A few months later, the country became free from the shackles of British rule.Writing about the time and history of events during the period, Surama Ghatak, who was better known as the wife of director and playwright Ritwik Ghatak, in her essay published in the 50th anniversary souvenir of the library, said, “1947 was a memorable time in our life. The country broke the fetters of 200-year-old British rule to become independent… The country was going through a tumultuous time. There was the Left movement, the navy revolt, the march of the Azad Hind army, Mahatma Gandhi’s march to riot-hit Noakhali, etc.”
At that juncture, the library came as a literary movement not only in Rilbong but also in Shillong and young enthusiasts plunged into it to find the hidden treasures.

Debabrata Bhattacharya, who was a member of the library, wrote in the souvenir about discovering his treasure, “I remember my introduction to Tarashankar Bondopadhyay. I began reading Kalindi one night after the evening meal and when I had finished, dawn was already breaking.”
Now, Sukanta Bhattacharjee, Manik Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bondopadhyay are alien names to the Bengali youths of Shillong, most of whom cannot read or write in their mother tongue.
In 1984, Netaji Pathagar got a new building.

Every nook and corner of the library has a story to tell but it has no listener now. If one listens carefully, one can hear a lonely soul’s sigh of despair. It has visibly lost the battle against the digital dawn.
The library has a wide collection of about 25,000 books, both Bengali and English. Many books were donated by well-wishers and friends. Besides story books, there are books on philosophy, religion and history, among others.

The library also boasts of its varied collection of children’s literature.“But the saddest part is in the last 10 years, not a single Bengali children’s book has been issued,” says the librarian and a bibliophile.

It was a ritual to add new books to the collection on Netaji’s birthday “but now it has been discontinued”.
He visits the library almost every evening and spends some time there. A few old readers come looking for books. While some take their picks home, others sit in the reading room, either reading or conversing with the librarian. The topics of discussion range from books, politics, economy to the sorry state of the library.
A regular at the library who stays in the neighbourhood says there are no young readers today. “Probably because they know everything thanks to internet and e-books,” he smirks.

True, book, once a man’s friend and philosopher, has lost the battle to technology but the question is, in a country like India how many people have access to the digital world and even if they do, how is the connectivity in Shillong?

“The thing is technology or not, people’s habit of reading is gone. Those who don’t love reading and are not curious about the world around (in an academic way) will not even read digital books,” says an old-timer.
Asked about revamp, the librarian informs that there is no plan and there is not enough financial thrust to jump onto the digital platform. In a word, the future of the abandoned treasures is uncertain.
He strongly believes that there is an urgent need for inculcating reading habit among children and parents and teachers together can achieve this.

“Books are still our best friend. It is us who have forgotten about the precious friend that stood by us in trying times,” says an elderly member.


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