| An exhibition of rare books at Bagbazar Reading Library flagged off its 125th anniversary celebrations last week. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
It had been the seat of learning for many during the struggle for Independence. After 125 years, it is still a landmark of knowledge for the younger generation.
The Bagbazar Reading Library will celebrate its 125th anniversary on June 24. To commemorate the occasion, schoolchildren, government officials and book-lovers will take out a procession from the library.
A display of rare books and a soiree were organised last week to flag off the celebrations at the library with a history at 2 KC Bose Road, off Bhupen Bose Avenue.
“The library was set up after the Ilbert Bill of 1883 was passed. Intellectuals like Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, Girish Ghosh and Rabindranath Tagore felt the need for a free reading library, where common people could widen their knowledge base and make the best use of the Ilbert Bill. The library was started with 33 newspapers and journals at 65 Rajballabh Street,” said Dipak Bhattacharya, the current library secretary.
It shifted to the present address after Calcutta Improvement Trust pulled down the building to widen the road, Bhattacharya added.
The library had eminent members like Rabindranath Tagore, Vidyasagar, Girish Ghosh and Nandalal Bose, who had donated rare books from their private collection.
Today, the library is in a dilapidated state. There is neither money nor infrastructure to preserve the collection of 90,000 books and journals. This, despite having 1,100 members on its rolls and a strong demand for books.
“We had original paintings by Nandalal Bose and others. Around 12 years back, these were stolen. We are helpless. We don’t have either funds or tools to preserve the collection,” said librarian Anamika Pal Chaudhury.
“We might get a government grant. We will start our preservation work as soon as the state archives gives us the nod,” she added.
A few rare books still on the racks are the first editions of Tagore’s Chitrangada, Raktakarabi, A Biography of Maharaja Krishnachandra Roy (printed with wood blocks in London, 1811), Tekchand Thakur’s Allaler Ghorer Dulal, Colonel Todd’s Rajasthan, Kolkatar Kotha by Pramathanath Mullick, the first print of Hutum Pyanchar Noksha and others.
The library also has issues of Bengali periodicals like Balok, Bharati (a comic journal), Basantak, Tatta Bodhini, Bama Bodhini and Arya Darshan. The list of tattered, yellow, shabbily-bound volumes is endless.
“With the rising demand for books, we need more funds, racks and cabinets. Parliamentarian Sudhangshu Sil has assured us of additional aid of Rs 1 lakh. We are planning to computerise the library and introduce special classes on computer training,” said Pal Choudhury.