Come summer and The Man from Madras Musings finds his thoughts increasingly straying towards these storehouses of books. The cool interiors, the hushed silence and the presence of similar knowledge-seeking minds fill MMM with a sense of calm. And that is needed in larger doses when it comes to summer when the heat, ruffled tempers, and the dust make for heightened stress and distress. But MMM is sorry to say that libraries, like nostalgia, are not what they used to be.
Take for instance this bibliotheque funded and run by Old Blighty. MMM was a member from the time he was a child, and a singularly cherubic one at that, in case he has not mentioned it before. In that era, and for many years after, this was a sanctuary of sorts. Even the most boisterous of children would be awed by the tomes and postpone the inevitable coughs and sneezes for a more appropriate time. But, alas, all that is a thing of the past. Some intelligent soul decided that the place needed to be livened up and the first thing that was done was the installation of bright yellow wooden flooring. Not a soul evidently bothered to consider that footfalls on wood can make for loud noises. And that is precisely what occurred. Those wishing to read in peace and quiet now have to do so amidst a continuous grating noise in the background and several members walking around, making sounds over which they have no control.
The next addition was a meeting space and conversation area. In the middle of a library! Talk shows became frequent affairs and it was most disconcerting to read, say, a Wodehouse while a voice in the background intoned about the economic crisis. The last straw was when the old staff was replaced with new ones who had no idea about library etiquette. There are now phones installed within the reading area and the staff has to frequently answer calls and talk into them for long periods of time. That puts paid to silence of any kind. And, as a consequence, members now think they can answer calls on their cell phones as well!
Because of all this, MMM let his membership lapse, after almost four decades during which he had transferred it to whichever city he had lived in. A sad parting, but then you need to move with the times or if not at least move away from them. But that is not the end of the story.
The other day, MMM was in a library of a hallowed club in the city. A member who appeared to be in communion with his immortal soul for over thirty minutes with eyes shut suddenly sprang to life and began talking into his cell phone. “I am in the library,” he roared and continued talking. Unable to bear it any longer, MMM walked up to him and indicated by gesture that he ought to go out to speak on his phone. “The club rule is that my phone should be on silent mode when I am in the library,” he said. “Which it is. It does not say anywhere that I too ought to be silent.” So much for civilisation. MMM walked away with the consolation that at least in this library, unlike the library in another hallowed club, breakfast is not served to members!