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The man who made National Library - P.T. Nair publishes biography of BS Kesavan

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 23.11.05

When the Calcutta Public Library opened on March 8, 1836, Dwarkanath Tagore became its first ?proprietor? and litterateur Pyari Chand Mitra was appointed its first librarian. But by 1903, the library existed only in name.

Then came Lord Curzon, who bought off the rights of the library and merged it with the remnants of the East India College Library and departmental libraries, creating Imperial Library. Curzon modelled it on the British Museum and it became the repository of incunabula, manuscripts, documents and maps. It opened on January 30, 1903, and it shifted its location several times till C. Rajagopalachari, the first Indian governor-general of Free India, recommended moving it from Esplanade to its current location at the Belvedere. The National Library opened at what was Lord Hastings?s country seat on February 1, 1953.

Although the history of the library is well documented, little is known of the man who was responsible for turning National Library into a vast collection of books, many of these gifted by bibliophiles, and for building up a huge collection in various Indian languages, and thereby bestowing a truly national character on it.

The man was Bellary Shamanna Kesavan, who was the first librarian of National Library.

Now P.T. Nair has on his own done something which National Library ought to have long ago ? publish the biography of the man whose vision turned it into a temple of learning that was like a gold mine for research scholars.

Titled BS Kesavan, First National Librarian of India, it is a heavy volume crammed with facts on the man who enjoyed the confidence of Chakravarty Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and other national leaders.

According to Nair, Kesavan was an orthodox Brahmin of the Iyengar sect, born on May 10, 1909. He graduated from the Maharajah?s College in Mysore with mathematics, physics and chemistry but in London, he studied English, before he took his diploma in library science from the London School of Librarianship, University of London, in 1936.

Nair traces Kesavan?s subsequent career in detail and, ultimately, he took charge of Imperial Library on March 31, 1948. For smooth administration and better service to readers, Kesavan revamped the entire set-up of National Library. He headed many important committees and was responsible for introducing modern technology to facilitate work.

Of course, those who use National Library know how everything that Kesavan did for it has come to nought and how readers and research workers have suffered thereafter.