– A photo story by Saheli Das.
Coming from a town where everyone knows everyone, walking around in the city of Kolkata is always refreshing. Instead of a small town girl from Malda, I can be anyone here—a teacher, an actress, a writer, a photographer. Kolkata brings out in me the joy of being someone new, yet not lost. While the flashing yellow cabs and sprawling colonial streets engulfed me in solace, I suddenly longed for company but not of a fellow human. Before I knew it, my wandering feet led me to one place where there will always be company, and yet I wouldn’t even have to engage in verbal communication—a library.
Set on the ground floor of an old building, the Dakshin Kalikata Bandhab Samiti Text Book Library was started in 1936 in South Kolkata by four young men. The four friends had organized a Saraswati Pooja and were left with a little money at the end of it. That’s where the idea was conceived, and today it functions with help of five free service employers, limited students, and a few loyal readers. The ceiling high wooden shelves are stacked with books that range from Bengali literature to engineering. Struck by awe, I let my camera do the talking as I attempted to capture the readers involved in their conversations with the bound books.
On the librarian’s wooden desk are books piled up, ink stamps, cards of books issued, and a glass of tea. Behind the circular vapours of the hot tea, is an old man reading his book, oblivious of my presence and the rest of this world.
As a few more visitors trickle in, I can’t help but think how their relationship to this library and its books are much like the tea: the longer it brews, the stronger it becomes.
The city around this library grows: the roads become wider, the traffic heavier, and the trees taller. Amongst that, the library’s remains silent, except the soft murmuring and the sounds of pages turning.
Outside on the stairs at the entrance, a few homeless people sit, eat and sleep, who like me, fail to find roots in a city and time where everything is continuously evolving. Like me, they resort to the comfort that this library offers—the comfort of knowing that we may be alone, but never lonely.
No matter how much the hustle-bustle of Kolkata might sometimes be intimidating, it doesn’t silence me. Behind my insecurities and the occasional questioning myself, I have a story to tell, as does this library. Today, my camera speaks for the both of us; all that we both need now, is someone to listen.