Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty writes about a Marwari library that houses a formidable collection of old and rare books and manuscripts.
I am at the Marwari Library, a quiet two-storey institution dating back to 1915. A handful of people are seated in the hall. The hubbub of the streets is right below but all one hears here is the turning of pages, the rustle of newspapers and magazines, and an occasional clearing of the throat.
The library, situated in a heritage building in Chandni Chowk and run by the Marwari Education Foundation, has 250 life members and 50 ordinary members. Anyone who walks in can read newspapers and magazines free of charge. “For an annual payment of Rs. 20, a member can borrow a magazine for 15 days,” says Sharma. With a security deposit of Rs. 500, you can borrow two books for a fortnight. A life membership costs Rs. 3,100.
Despite its age and formidable collection, particularly of Hindi books and magazines,(many of them dating back to the first two decades of the 1900) not many people know about this library. In fact, if you ask around, it is likely that you will be directed to the Delhi Public Library not far away.
But its strength is certainly the dog-eared, worn-out collection of 32,229 books and magazines, of which 2,000 are rare. Sharma, one of three employees, says these are only for reference. “Many research students from various Delhi universities and universities abroad come to us.”
Sharma, helped by B.D. Sharma one of the two attendants, brings out old Hindi magazines like Chand,Hans, Sudha, Maryada, Madhuri, Stree Darpan, Vishal Bharati and Saraswati; some from as far back as 1917. Among its 21 manuscripts is a handwritten Bhagwad Gita. My eyes rest on the History of Congress and Brighu Samhita, the Vedas, the Marwari Jati Itihaas, old dictionaries and encyclopaedias, a collection of 100 years of almanacs, Tulsidas’ Ramayan, Lok Sabha discussions during its formative days, Filmfare issues dating back to the 1950s, besides some books in English published in pre-independent India.
Saraf says, “The library was a result of the Hindi revival movement in pre-independent India. So you will find here Hindi books and magazines of those times.