Dec 19, 2010
Mangalore has everything an ordinary citizen could possibly need (okay, okay, except decent roads and uninterrupted power supply), but what it lacks is a place for one’s intellectual development. And by that I don’t mean the endless seminars and talks organised now and then, nor do I mean colleges and not even libraries. What I mean is a place where one can simply sit on a nice cosy armchair or a beanbag, relax with a cup of coffee and read one’s favourite book (or for that matter, any book) in complete silence, without noisy interruptions from blaring sound systems or chattering teenagers.
I have often had this idea. In fact, I am one of those (or perhaps the only one!!), who on any given day is most probably found in a cafe with a novel or a notebook writing down whatever her thoughts dictate. Around me will be hordes of people, mostly teenagers or college-goers in their early 20s, laughing over god knows what, but loud enough to put the blasting music to shame. The quietest ones are the couples, who do nothing but gaze at each other with silly smiles and talk, or seem to talk, in whispers. And there’s also the LCD, tuned to channels nobody wants to watch, with no volume so that you are forced to watch the monkeys on Animal Planet lip sync to Munni Badnaam hui.
The best part is, amidst all that cacophony, all those hurrying waiters, and that deafening music and boisterous teens, I find peace and quiet with Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy, or my dear diary.
But this is not about my peculiar ways of living my life. Back to the topic, what Mangalore needs is a place where one can truly unwind with a book, or whatever one wants to do without being a pest to others. We have malls for improving our physical fitness (the wallet too gets to shed its weight) by all that walking it takes to traverse its length and breadth. We have a so-called park for spending a lazy evening, and beach to remind ourselves that it’s our oldest and still our most favourite mode of entertainment for a fun outing with family. We also have a host of restaurants and food courts to put on enough weight to make it worth shedding at the gym, plus the theatres that are either too hot or too cold.
And then we have the libraries – libraries which have some notorious customers like me who forget to return the books on time, but have no space wide enough to walk without bumping against a shelf or tumbling over books sprawled on the floor. Not to mention the pathetic condition of the books, what with their covers hanging on to dear life and the books themselves with half their pages in the grave.
My professor in college, who I greatly respect, had told me once that Mangalore is an intellectually dead place. He was from Kerala, so it will not exactly amount to city-drohism (something like ‘desh-drohism’ – sorry, couldn’t really find a better term). Anyway, may be to call Mangalore intellectually dead is going a bit too far, but definitely it’s not in good health. We have so many colleges, but how many students would be aware of what’s happening outside the sphere of their own lives? We have book shops where, to find a classic like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre you need to make at least three rounds in three weeks of at least three different booksellers. And salespeople who, when you ask for “Wretched of the Earth” get you books by all the Richards on earth!!
Being a city of so many languages, perhaps it’s fair to say literature has seen considerable advancement in languages like Konkani, Beary and Tulu. Yet, here too it seems that literature of a language is confined within the community rather than being more pervasive. Unless you are specially interested, chances are you wouldn’t know the great writers of these literatures, mostly because our education is such that we would know all the poets of 16th century England, but not those who made our own mother tongue language so rich and beautiful.
What we need is more than just sporadic reminders in the way of seminars on vernacular literature, in fact, what we need is an effort at the academic level to make the education system more fluid where literatures of different languages can merge, rather than be ‘specializations’ which ultimately end up being little more than exam-oriented courses.
That apart, as I said earlier, our city needs a place to sit, relax, sip coffee while enjoying a book. A well-lighted place (by which I mean plenty of natural light and not dungeon-like places), with comfortable beanbags and armchairs, and NOT study tables, making up the furniture. Where there are rows and rows of books on all topics, in all languages of local interest including, of course, English, where one can actually shift the furniture to suit one’s comfort. And where there’s enough space so that you don’t have to live with that awful feeling that your neighbour is staring at the page you are reading, and where you can walk without having to watch your feet. Also, a coffee machine which of course you will pay for, and neatly arranged tables just in case you need to write. And no music (those who want it are free to bring their MP3 players, provided they use earphones), no talking aloud, and no, it’s not meant for noisy reunions, or for phone calls. At such a place, if we ever get one, I dream to sit by the window reading Jane Austen. That, for me, is life.
And for all those who come up with the answer ‘home’ to read and relax, well, that’s not my point. The experience of reading ought to go beyond that – even though reading late into the night by the lamp has its own charm, to be truly refreshing, a similar change in the ambience does a lot of good. And without television, visitors, and phone to disturb you hundreds of times, reading, or for that matter, writing at a place I elaborated earlier would truly become an experience to be cherished. And somehow, I find concentrating an easier task in a cafe rather than at home, in fact, I did a lot of my exam preparations in a cafe.
And for all those who feel the ambience does not matter as long as the book is good, well, that’s not my point either. Basically, I agree that any book can be read anywhere, still, having such a place would enhance reading habits in people, where they don’t really need to take the book home and return it the next week with the regret of not having touched it. They can simply come with their own book and enjoy.
The problem is, few people will have the time to spare for a reading place, what with work, malls, theatres, beaches and restaurants consuming most of our lives.