It was by sheer accident and not by design that I had a pleasant interface with the British Council Library (BCL),after good 13 years. Located now in a tall building with an outlandish yet attractive façade(reminds of chocolate spread) on KG Marg, New Delhi, the setting in a concrete jungle looks better than the crammed up accommodation 18 years ago at the AIFACS building, next to Red Cross & Parliament on Rafi Marg turning.
Down Memory Lane
I had the opportunity to visit both the locations a couple of times in the last 35 years. Though BCL was an integral part of my growing up years in Ranchi (one would cycle with joy a distance of 8 kms), it somehow never fulfilled my desire for reading, forget about learning. Apart from seeing, touching and turning a few classics (kept in spotlessly clean surroundings) on Economics, History, Political Science and Literature ( one could not make any head or tail out of them), it was a real fun to swiftly run through the innumerable illustrated and sports pages of Time, Economist, The Times, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph etc. Coming to Indian newspapers, if my ordinary memory does not fail me, only The Statesman of Calcutta was subscribed. Why? Because, it probably appealed to, if not acceded to the colonial British ethos and life styles. Sri Prasad, the ‘brown’ deputy librarian would attempt European accent at times, akin to our ‘Father Teachers’.
No one would answer my, the, then justifiable query-‘Why the bulky overseas publications (some newspapers would run into almost 50 pages) did not carry any news/feature concerning India? Was it still a forbidden land? I was bestowed with an answer rather late, when I began truly ‘deciphering’ the meaning of the word ’bias’ during my splendid higher education opportunity in JNU. Perhaps, I understand it much better now as a fading, non-descript civil servant, entangled in the mystical web of hypocrisy in bureaucracy.
BCL In Present Setting
Shall we go back to the present BCL before we lose focus? My immediate impression was- what a change? At a first glance it resembles a jail, not a place of reading. Ostensibly,out of heightened security concerns. One struggles to find the reading room. Entry due to my institutional card was friendly. I carry the ‘Member card’ around my neck rather proudly, till I discover that all Tom,Dick and Harries too were prominently displaying it. My body & bag were, nevertheless, not spared from mechanical and manual checking.
Groups and pairs were thronging the small, well manicured lawn and the steps leading to the main pink coloured edifice. One wrong step and I land up in the crowded Counselling area, to be politely guided to my ultimate destination on the first floor.
Variety Exposure & Entertainment
Once inside, it was going to be an amazing experience. Despite my willingness to get rid of my bag, the usual property counter was nowhere to be sighted. One of the busy attendants, explains, I could carry everything inside (also laptop, cell phone, make up kit etc.?), since they had a sensor at the exit gate. Strange,but true. I had to live with another security if not precaution related reality reflecting the changing times.
All kinds of dresses and attire of myriad sizes and shapes, strange hair styles, ear rings and footwear in vibrant colors were on display. One was tempted to get into a comparison mode. Readers were predominantly young, not forgetting to comb hairs in between, see display on cells and surf through net on laptops recklessly. Majority were studying & reading. Some were taking notes also in trying conditions. A few, romantic types were flicking through. Rest were pretending. O yes!, those found attempting a nap or showing inappropriate etiquettes, were politely & promptly cautioned from time to time.
Whispering Windows Reflecting Emerging Patterns
Whispers off and on involved both young girls & boys. Presumably, topic may have been, what the latest issue of India Today reports-using acronyms and code words(alien to parents) to bare souls to strangers on social networking websites of Facebook and Twitter, living in unreal world by forging friendships, without realizing that the perils of excessive social networking could harm them emotionally in the long run. The possible causes could be- strictly nuclear family environment, an urge to achieve something ahead of time by defying the prescribed and time tested laws of nature & gravity and purported lack of convenient sports and entertainment facilities.
I close my eyes and utter with bonafide intentions- “Unusual and unnatural conformity with the peer group by showing antagonism towards the elders could be traumatic as also counterproductive. Resultant state of non-function or dys-function should be resisted.”
A quick round follows. Afterall, the rhythm generated had to be sustained. At the same time, I could not possibly retain a standing posture for long. When I look for a seat, I cannot succeed. Not even a stool was available. As such, the colorful chairs looked casual, as if one was roaming in a picnic joint on a sea shore or about to hit floors in a disco. The stereotyped library chairs or couches, meant to give support to back and enhance concentration were conspicuous by their absence. One of the active attendants added to my woes by stating “this was the rush time, so tolerance and patience on the part of the deprived was advisable.”
Bias vis- a-vis India
Upon seeing and opening and seeing again a few eye catching books on Sociology, Psychology, Economics and International Affairs, I lay my hands on a handful of notable reference volumes. One such book was Whitakers’ World of Facts (claimed to have every subject) published from London in 2005(it had to be British). I was aghast to read the following lines on page 139, once again written about our motherland with a certain bias-“Indian economy is seriously weakened by overpopulation. About 25% of the Indians cannot (?) afford to feed themselves. Most people still live by farming but India has a booming I.T. Industry.”
My hectic search for an authentic book on population policy or its stabilization resulted into utter failure. For, one could see only a few hundred books in physical form. It was gathered that majority were now available on line and that too in the several branches of BCL. Being computer illiterate, I , therefore, decide to give up & explore other available non-electronic options.
Experience of Reading Cross Legged
I resolve finally to turn truly Indian in an otherwise British setting. Look for some space on floor and manage also. A few trials and I make myself comfortable next to a corner shelf in the periodical section. The adjacent children section looks somewhat deserted. I feel dejected. It too did not have any seating arrangement.
Sitting cross legged with unpolished shoes on often propelled a change of posture. Due to backache, it could not carry me through for long. Right shoe was removed therefore first to be followed by socks. Soon the left leg too was going to be bereft of shoe. But good sense prevailed at the nick of time. My socks, being dirty and somewhat torn, were neither presentable nor suited to the alien, ‘sophisticated’ environment.
A Brush With Yoga
I could carry on for almost one and a half hours. No Deviation, no other thought except the ones provoked by the magazines in my lap………., very close to the suspected Glaucoma affected right eye. And it was nothing but on my favorite hobbies- yoga & photography. I settle first for getting engrossed in a ‘phoren’ mag on the time tested practice of ancient India. It was interesting if not amusing to pick up a perspective about facial yoga. Something one does,rather daily, without perhaps becoming familiar with the nomenclature. Following lines are worth recalling-“Without moving head look to left as far as possible for 5 seconds. Repeat by looking towards right, upwards and downwards. Take note of the sensation of the tension in the muscles that move the eyeballs. Now close eyes and relax. Rub your palms together till they get warm and then gently place them over eyes to absorb the heat. Repeat a few times.”
Next the ‘Digital photographer’ gave useful insights into looking at my hobby afresh and creating contrasts by showing old and new technologies together in a single frame, joys and sorrows of ‘capturing’ at dawn and dusk, water, sand & landscape photography, snow shots, attempting memorable & authentic newborn portraits etc. Following tips were futuristic- (a) Photoshop processing helps- processed from raw, an image can have greater contrast and be more tonally interesting,(b) sometimes one can have enough options while shooting…….. that you don’t need to do any physical alterations afterwards and (c) some colour correction and a bit of sharpening helps to bring out detail in an object, be it rock or a building.
What really impressed and mattered to me, however, were the five highlighted merits of black &white photography:(i) it has a timeless look, hard to conjure in color,(ii) it is ideal when shooting a series of images,(iii) by removing the color from the equation, black & white simplifies a scene, de cluttering it almost instantly,(iv)it enables you to emphasise shape, form & texture and (v) this format means that one can deal nicely with tricky and mixed lighting conditions, such as, inside a building, a temple or a church with a relative ease.
I haven’t finished as yet. For, the punchline that appealed to my inner self was- “I enjoy company, talking to people, sharing passions & creativity. When I am behind a camera, that’s me”.(something within, perhaps, finds expression).
Two Twenty PM
Once out of bounds of the air-conditioned ‘conditions’ of the BCL,I am destined to have a feel of the soothing air of October on a Tuesday, a day synonymous with Lord Hanuman. Also having read about photography, indulging into instant photography was going to be a natural corollary. A beginning was made with a close-up of tempting fried rice and tasty mixed vegetables (cooked & packed with meticulous care by Jaya) in the backdrop of the historic Jantar Mantar and the modern NDMC building. Which one leaves an impression, is anybody’s guess. Having a grub in the open air for a change, had its own advantages. One could delete and edit snaps, look back, contemplate, plan afresh.
Slow and Steady Wins The Race
Post-lunch, I relish taking a relaxed stroll on a surprisingly deserted but green avenue, to my next tentative destination. I resort purposely to this time consuming venture. I have no intention to add my bit to the pollution level of the capital by getting into a bus or a three wheeler. After all, it is slow and steady that should aspire to win the race in today’s fast global village.