CHENNAI: A brief shower of rains left the city with a weather everyone would crave for. And, for bibliophiles, a visit to a quaint library and browsing books through the shelf would be the ideal plan on such a beautiful day. So,we decided to head to a library, or should we say THE library that has remained in the hearts of many for over six decades.
Easwari Lending Library, Gopalapuram, the city’s oldest lending library is a haven for readers. Founded by N Palani in 1955, the library has grown from mere 25 books to over 2 lakh books. Carefully arranging the books in order, Palani welcomes everyone with a smile. We were greeted with the same smile by his son Saravanan too. “It all started when I was running a waste paper mart approximately 100 yards away from this shop. My love for reading made me collect some Tamil books that were dumped as waste. My customers used to borrow them from me,” shares the 77-year-old.
Palani recalls he built a collection out of the old books he received. He used to visit the Moore market everyday to add new books to his collection. “In 1955, with an initial deposit of `5 from members and 5-10 paisa per book, I started a small library,” he smiles.
Today the library has expanded to 10 branches across the city and has over 46,000 enrolled members. “Those days, reading books was the only entertainment. Everyone in and around this area used to visit the library and borrow books,” he recalls. “This small space used to be crowded with readers till 1 am and I loved their company. I’d close the shop only after the last person had left and would never force anyone to leave.”
Being the oldest and the only private library during the 50’s and 60’s, this library is acclaimed to have hosted stars and famous writers including Rajinikanth, Kamal Hassan, author Sujatha Rangarajan and writer Sandilyan. “Many writers and film stars used to visit the library. I wish people had the same interest in reading books as they did back then,” sighs the voracious reader of Tamil literature. “I love reading Ponniyin Selvan and have read it over seven times. Till date, I read a book every night. I struggle to sleep if I don’t read one,” he laughs.
Palani also reads books by Balakumaran and Sandilyan. “My old customers still prefer classic books. They don’t easily adapt to new styles of writing as the quality differs. But children love all genres of books and predominantly, my readers are women,” he shares while suggesting a Tamil book to one of his customers.
With three-generations of customers still visiting his shop, Palani beams and says, “Whenever my customers who are settled in foreign countries visit the city, they come here. They say that I haven’t changed and they take a picture of the library. They also say that the books here taught them everything.”
Hearing our conversation, Neelakandan, a customer pipies in, “I have been coming here from the age of 8. I am 45 now!”
Following the footsteps of their father, Saravanan and his brother Satish help in running the business. “Our father has inspired us and we are glad to be a part of this. We are planning to centralise all branches where the readers can return or renew the book at any branch,” he adds.