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Society shelves ready for new readers

After an 18-year hiatus, the Asiatic Society has thrown open its doors to new members to pore over its treasured tomes.

The decision comes in the wake of a recent high court nod to a litigation that started in 1985, when issuance of membership was closed following a dispute. Attempts to revive membership were made in 1997-98, but nothing much had resulted.

“We need young blood, qualified academicians to run the society after us. The present members are all in their 50s and 60s. Besides, a whole lot of rare manuscripts are waiting to be edited for which we need experts in linguistics,” said general secretary, Asiatic Society, Dilip Coomer Ghose, on Thursday.

The new entrants will be in addition to the society’s existing body of 1,200 members, of whom 400 are locals and 400 from outside West Bengal. Admission forms are being distributed from Thursday till December 8.

But providing space to the new readers in the library, already faced with a space crunch, is likely to be a big challenge, feel Asiatic Society officials. “We are in a fix, as we desperately need alternative accommodation. A large portion of the ground floor of the new building (overlooking Park Street) is occupied by tenants and illegal settlers. We want to oust them, which is really difficult. So, we are thinking of approaching the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for help,” Ghose added.

Though admission and annual fees for membership remain the same (Rs 32 and Rs 100, respectively) even about two decades later, a screening process has been put in place for quality check. Applicants will have to be master’s degree-holders, or all-India-level officers, with an interest in academics. While preference will be given to those with research and teaching experience, applicants also need to be members of a referral library or council, like National Library or British Council.

“The norms were prescribed by an expert committee formed by the high court, comprising Asiatic Society office-bearers, and approved by the standing finance committee in Delhi,” Ghose elucidated.

Restrictions apart, the society has come up with attractive discounts for a greater response to its entry call. Members are entitled to a 50 per cent commission (a 10 per cent hike on the earlier rate) on purchase of Asiatic Society publications at the ongoing book exhibition in the old building.

“The society has received a government grant of Rs 5.4 crore for 2003-04, higher than last year. This is an outcome of the vigorous academic activities we have undertaken over the past year and a half. We no longer face a cash crunch,” Ghose explained.

The society has requested ASI to take up internal repairs in the old building so that it can start an art gallery there.

Apart from taking in new members, a series of seminars, conferences and exhibitions till December-end signals the start of a fresh chapter at this repository of knowledge.

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