Karthik Bhatt has written an article on When NSK was awarded the Kalaivanar title. The event took place he says in a reading room in Thiruvallikeni and we thank Sampathkumar Srinivasan for identifying the place and sending us photographs of it as it appears today. These are published alongside.
Like clock towers, reading rooms were at one time all the rage in the city. In an era when like time pieces, reading material was not accessible to many, these served a useful purpose. It was perhaps Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar who began the trend of the influential people of Madras perpetuating their memory by endowing various parts of the city with reading rooms. Most, like the clock towers, still survive. Only unlike the clock towers, they are not as visible. My personal favourites are two – the Ranade Public Library in Mylapore and the Lady Goschen Library/Vijayaraghavulu Chetty Reading Room in Chintadripet.
What purpose do they serve now? When reading matter is available at the touch of a screen and when electronic media provides all the entertainment, even libraries are struggling. What then is the fate of reading rooms? Perhaps they can be put to alternate uses of a similar nature – classes for the less affluent perhaps? Or free wifi locations where in this era of online education, children can congregate?
Those are questions that the owners of the reading rooms need to answer but there is no denying that they form an integral part of our city’s heritage.