In an ever-changing world, the damp smell of old books comes to us as a distant childhood memory. Libraries, with their shelves as high as the ceilings, all filled with books, form a vivid imagery sadly, in the minds of a few these days.
While the younger generations may have switched books with mobile phones and tablets, the habit of reading and the quest for gaining knowledge can never truly be replaced.
The Netaji Pathagar, a library situated in Meghalaya’s Rilbong locality, about four kilometers from main Shillong city, at one time formed a big part of the community. Inaugurated just before India got its independence from British Raj on April 30, 1947, the library has been just about survived by those who still feel a strong connection to it.
The Pathagar, stood the test of time and provided many with the joy of reading. In a small Bengali community of about 30 households, it served as the beacon of knowledge for years. However, in recent times, it has been picking up dust as the reading culture has gone down, explains Topashish.
Topashish Bhattacharya, a filmmaker by trade, made a documentary on the library which was released through East India Story on August 15, last year. This year, it won the best documentary award at the Indus Valley International Film Festival in Chandigarh.
Speaking to us about how he came to know about Netaji Pathagar, Topashish said, “This library is in our locality. It all started in my childhood. After coming back from my school, my father used to tell me to go to the library and spend some time reading books. My uncle was the librarian there, and no matter what weather it was, sunny or raining heavily, he would always show up to keep the library open. So, that’s how I was introduced to it, and I developed a reading habit which I carry to this date.”
Topashish on why he decided to make the film.
Opening up more on the film and why it has been entirely shot in gloomy lighting, Mr. Bhattacharya said, “I really wanted to let the people know how this library culture is fading away from our lives.”
Named after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, this library was conceptualized around the time of India’s independence. Pondering upon how the name might have come to stay he said, “We have got over 25,000 books in the library, many of which are from pre-independence and post-independence era. Moreover, there are many books on Netaji himself. Initially, the library had been inaugurated on 30th April, 1947, just before the country was about to gain independence. There was a patriotic feeling around at that time and that’s how I believe the name came to be.”
Asked if the library was functional, Topashish informed sadly that the library is not running now because the reading culture has declined leaving it in a bad shape. “But after I made the documentary, the library has been pushed into the spotlight a bit. People from our locality are trying hard now, as it has also shone some light on them and they are actively looking to help,” he added with hope.
However, the filmmaker seemed confident in his belief that the library culture can be reintroduced in society, albeit with an upgrade, if required. “Absolutely we can bring the culture back. You see, it’s true that we can find many things on the internet, but there are still things that have not been documented. So, I would really like this library culture to move into the digital space so that people get to know about it,” according to him.
Topashish further told us that after the release of the documentary he got to know that the Ministry of Culture is about to sanction some funds so that renovation can be done and the library can be opened again.
“I always think of doing something that can be of information to the people, that can give them something new to learn. I have something lined up, let’s see how it goes,” he ended when asked about his plans for the future.
You can watch the film here: