The Corner Library
The Corner Library
A neglected corner at the end of the street. A small library stood like a rock. A rock that refused to move. A rock that cared the least about things happening around. The library was untainted by the changing face of neon lights, glittering streets and a crowd of shops. The inside of the place was equally lonely, heavy with iron racks, heaped with dusty books and a table ignorant of its looks. Behind the table, sat a man with a nonchalant look and stoic resistance. It seemed difficult to identify the difference between the living and non-living objects in the room. More articulate perhaps was the signboard which read 'Northern Reading Library'.
Titir, now 40, after years, visited this corner of the city as she could not avoid peeping into the poor-lit hall of this 100 years old library. She stepped inside anticipating a reunion of her past with the present. Time seemed to have been imprisoned in every nook and corner of this enormous hall. The thick layer of dust was perhaps a part of the century-old history. Titir was relieved. Nothing has changed. While a student, the feeling had always been that 'nothing will change'. Even the roads will retain its color. Today when life has progressed almost two whole decades, the aggressive transition all-around has left her dazed and perplexed. She was struggling to keep pace. The city has changed its look; bridges have been built, traffic has witnessed an upward rise, student politics has taken a new turn, slums have become concrete sheds, yellow taxis are almost vanishing, roadside tea stalls are hard to find, students loiter around much lesser than before. Well, Titir was not prepared to welcome the change. Perhaps she was going slow. But where was the problem of moving a bit slow!
The look of the reading library was somewhat comforting. It was a pleasure to take out yesterday's newspaper, dust the bench and take a seat with a book. The librarian lived up to her expectations and did not exchange a single extra glance or word except what was needed. Ah! The fear of 'not keeping pace' was gone. She turned each page and slipped into that secured, known world where she at one time belonged. This reading room was heavy with memories. She would sit, read and wait for hours while Supratim arrived late with the excuse of a host of tuitions! But Titir would not mind; time was generous in those days! Supratim always managed to carry a busy look not inviting too many questions. The librarian was perhaps a different man but not with a much different look. They would sit, read for some time and then move out for the rest of the evening.
Titir had been sitting for hours with no count of the time whatsoever. The afternoon rays of the sun were unable to penetrate the quiet of the library. She was hardly reading the book. It was more of treading the memory lanes with silent footsteps and delving deep into those early days of her life full of friends and strangers, young and old, books and articles, roadside omelet and a lazy sip into a cup of tea! Supratim, in the early days, was her classmate and later a great friend. Perhaps a bit more than a friend. Everything seemed to match with him; opinion, interests, likes, dislikes and even the love for a plate of oily 'chowmein'! This library always stood like that good old banyan tree witnessing the two, growing with each changing summer afternoon. When Kolkata was burning with the scorching heat of the sun, empty trams moved relentlessly along the tracks, Titir and Supratim managed to create a peaceful world within the thick walls of the Northern Reading Library. Opinions were exchanged, discussions held, plans made, poetry written, ideas shared with the constant interruption of the librarian's indifferent monitoring. The shelves of this reading room have been a part of their existence.
It was on the 13th of May and she clearly remembered. Titir had been waiting for Supratim after a month's vacation. The times were not of mobiles and 'keeping in touch'. Vacation meant writing letters and Supratim never had the patience to post a letter. But this generation had an unknown understanding of meeting at a particular place and at a particular time. It was already 3 in the afternoon and there was no sign of him. She was getting restless, though there was nothing to worry about. Half an hour more and Titir walked out. She had never been to his house. Only knew the lane in the dingy northern part of the city. Not far from the library though. Started walking. Kept walking. Reached in front of an unimpressive wooden door protecting an old house. An unknown fear gripped her as she knocked. It took a long time for the woman in her mid-30s to open the door. Perhaps she was Supratim's first cousin's wife. "Is Supratim there?" The usual question was answered and that one single moment changed Titir's life forever.
Mumbai was the new address where Supratim found stability. He settled. Years passed. Titir stopped looking back. Another thing she deliberately prevented herself from, was going to that library. She tried to forget...perhaps everything that reminded her of the sweet little pleasures which had filled her life once. Titir got busy with work, a marriage, her only son and a lot more. She never wanted to come back to those lanes and by-lanes which belonged to her past. For all these years, there has been no connection between her yesteryears and the present. It was a search for one particular textbook for her son which forced her to tread this old lane of yesterday. And the library was the only connection left to nudge her with some dilapidated memories. With an unknown curiosity and a desire to relive what she had left behind, Titir stepped into the dusty, grey reading hall. And that was enough to turn back the pages of her life. Difficult to escape from those haunting memories of knocking the door on a summer afternoon and never to go back again! The old librarian with a pair of wobbly legs walked close to remind her of the time. Yes, it was time to end the day.
Titir walked along the street. The neon lights grew stronger. The horns of the evening traffic brought back the reality. She had to reach home and prepare for the next day. Titir kept walking . But the day seemed long and the narrow lane never-ending! And then for a moment, she looked back, just once. The contours of the library were visible from a distance. It stood like a rock, strong and steady and refused to compromise with the changing reality. There was a silent promise that 'nothing will change'.