BENGALURU: Books by Enid Blyton, international magazines... If you asked any old Bengalurean where they got their literary fix, the answer would be the British Council. Now, the beloved book haven, which was established in 1960, is making a complete move to the virtual space by becoming a digital library. “Our physical centre in Bengaluru will become a computer-based testing centre for IELTS and other UK qualifications. The demand for UK examinations, including IELTS, continues to grow and this change will provide more young people with the opportunity to access internationally recognised qualifications as a route towards international mobility for work or study, and to improve their employability,” says Antonius Raghubansie, Director Learning Services, British Council India. The library is also going online in Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh.
For Prem Koshy, this move means bidding goodbye to a space his “childhood revolved around”, especially given that the library was located above Koshy’s on St Marks Road, before it relocated to Kasturba Road. “If I spent one hour working at the restaurant, I was given two hours of library time,” recalls the third-generation keeper of Koshy’s, who has been a visitor at the library since the age of five. “Koshy’s and the library shared the same entrance so I would often open shop for both,” says the 61-year-old, who owes the Council for his love for reading, memories of which are filled with Enid Blyton’s books or magazines like Woman And Home.
Author Jahnavi Barua has similar fondness for the library, calling it an integral part of her reading life. For Ravi Menezes, who was on the verge of pulling down the shutters on his bookstore Goobe’s Book Republic, the library not shutting down completely comes as some relief. In the past, Menezes has even bought 150 secondhand books for his store from the library’s clearance sale and can’t help but wonder what will happen to their current collection now. Mansoor Ali, who often featured the library as part of his Cubbon Park heritage walks, was shocked to hear the news. “It was one of the best libraries and I thought the pandemic had caused a return to reading,” says Ali.
Back in the day:
Established in 1960, the British Council’s first home in Bengaluru was above Koshy’s on St Marks Road, before it moved to Kasturba Road in the 2000s. R Natarajan, who was the assistant librarian from 1988 to 1998, remembers the space being filled with a 1,000 visitors on Saturdays. Jyoti Makhija, who was part of the library’s staff for 27 years, says the space was most popular with students pursuing medicine, management and literature. “People even came to read British newspapers,” says Makhija. Its many visitors also include Prince Charles, who inaugurated the revamped space in 1991. No stranger to renovation, the library underwent a makeover last year to appeal to new-age readers.