I was a reclusive geek back in college. Every day during the ‘off period’ of two hours, I would tread peacefully from Shillong College to the State Central Library to sit there and read. There was a classmate of mine who would accompany me there. I found her to be quite self-absorbed and talkative. On the way, she would always talk of her cats, her mischievous dog and her flowers. To tell the truth, I found her a tad boring. But she was too naïve to
We would read sitting together and holding a book. We would smile and giggle together as we read Khushwant Singh’s short stories. We would read and dream together of Garcia Marquez’s world of magical things that could only happen in dreams! When Fusun died in an accident (a character in Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Museum of Innocence’), tears streamed from our eyes. She, silently, wiped the tears flowing from my cheeks down to my jaw line, and we continued reading, wondering as to what will happen to Kemal, her lover. Later, we learned that he collected more of the things that were hers in a building, and turned it into a museum – a tribute to her, and his profound love for her.
We read together Maple Press’s ‘Contemporary Latin American Short Stories’, Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ and ‘The Namesake’, Kiran Desai’s ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ and many others. And as the months slowly passed, I failed to realise that her simplicity grew on me. We slowly became best friends. On the way to college, she would boisterously talk about the books. When I asked her how she felt about a particular novel, she would quote the lines of reviewers on the blurb! I found this funny. But I kept silent, and allowed her to shower endless praises.
She resembled me in some ways. She liked sitting alone on the campus and she daydreamed in class. After graduation, I joined university, and she taught in a private school. As we became immersed in our busy lives, we lost touch of one another. It was once in a blue moon that she’d call me, and sometimes, I’d call her. And then she changed her number.
Located in the heart of the city of Shillong, the State Central Library was constructed by the erstwhile government of Assam in the early 1950s. With the attainment of statehood of Meghalaya, the Assam government handed over the library to its Meghalaya counterpart on 19 January 1974, dividing the assets of the library between the two states. At present, there are about 28,715 registered members, the majority of which are adults. The library has a lending section, two reading/reference sections and children’s section. Books of local languages – Khasi and Garo – have been digitised, i.e. they will soon be available as ebooks on the library’s website. The State Central Library in this age of ebooks, Kindle, Flipkart and Amazon still beguiles one with the charm of book lending and reading in a library. It is a space for art that lies in pages and shelves that stand eternal through time – time spent with or without a companion.