|The Teen Murti House complex inside which the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is located. Mahesh Rangarajan
New Delhi, Oct. 8: The library has all the books she needs. Its collection is rated as one of the best — if not the best — in the country for social sciences. But that’s not why the Mumbai-based college teacher keeps coming back to Delhi.
It’s the public lectures and seminars that Anuradha Kalhan Siddiqui looks forward to every time she visits the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML).
Siddiqui has been doing a comparative study on urban poverty in Delhi and Mumbai, a project that requires extensive field visits and interactions with people.
For someone who isn’t too familiar with the national capital, that might have been difficult. So she turned to the NMML, a postdoctoral research centre where intellectuals meet and debate ideas.
Visits to the NMML have been like “field trips” for Siddiqui, filling her in on lifestyles of the poor, local histories and demographics, while its repository of over 3,00,000 books provided a solid background.
“I think the NMML has all the books that I need,” she said. “But more important, the library holds public lectures and seminars almost every second day on wide-ranging issues, including many relevant to my subject. I get a lot of ideas on Delhi and poverty by interacting with people at these seminars.”
A hub of academic debate, the NMML has come a long way since 2009, when it was sucked into a controversy. Over 50 scholars had then written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, alleging that the institution had stopped some of its activities, including publication of its Occasional Papers Series, basically articles submitted by experts that were brought out at regular intervals.
The institution did not say why the practice had been discontinued.
In an interview to The Telegraph, the NMML’s current director, Mahesh Rangarajan, said the library has left the controversies “behind”. The NMML has revived the Occasional Papers Series and 31 papers had been published till August. The target for the year is at least 60.
Among the publications the institution plans to bring out soon is the first volume of the selected works of C. Rajagopalachari. It will be out on October 14.
Rangarajan, who took over as director in 2011, said the institution had set up a review committee that recommended upgrading existing capabilities and reviving the best practices of the past.
“We will stay the course but strive to do better. I have great regard for my predecessors. Controversies are behind us as we are engaged in positive work. I must say that the dedication of the staff has remained intact all the years. We will take the best of the past and try to do better,” Rangarajan said.
Today, the NMML — where 28 fellows are doing research mainly on contemporary history and social sciences — holds seminars on Tuesdays and has begun regular theme-based public lectures. The themes include “rethinking history”, “social justice”, “India and the wider world” and “science, society and nature”.
Rangarajan, a historian and a political analyst who has written extensively for The Telegraph, said the NMML has hosted 96 speakers till August this year and that some 6,500 people attended the lectures and debates. A third of the speakers were from outside Delhi and another one-third came from outside India.
“It has a positive impact, especially as the entire annual programme is on our website before January 1,” he said.
Pradeep Kumar Sharma, who has spent hours at the library researching on the impact of globalisation on trade unions in the railways, agreed. “I have been greatly enriched by the academic discussions,” the retired railway employee said.
The NMML, located in the Teen Murti House complex, is an autonomous institution under the culture ministry. Founded in 1964, its archives contain the private papers of 1,500 well-known personalities.
Asked if the NMML had any plans to offer doctoral programmes, Rangarajan said: “Awarding doctorates is the task of universities. There are many outstanding universities in the country, some in Delhi itself. We do not seek to enter their domain.”
Rangarajan said the NMML’s annual budget is Rs 18 crore. “I leave it to you to judge how much this is,” he said. “But let me note: we have scaled up activities over the last two years without any additional resources.”