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Reading room with a view

Two friends have brought their love for books to fruition in an unusual venture that will thrill the hearts of bibliophiles in Tiruchi — they have started a reading room filled with close to 5,000 volumes from their personal collection that can be used by the general public. What’s unusual? It’s completely free!

“Why can’t we have more such libraries?” asks S Arunachalam, retired professor of Chemistry from Bharathidasan University, who has teamed up with his friend S Julian, former professor of Tamil at Periyar EVR College and ex-principal of Christu Raj College, Panjappur, for their ‘General Library’ project. “A library helps you to increase your knowledge. Those who have personal libraries at home should come forward and share their books with others,” he adds.

Dr Julian, who has had an abiding interest in Tamil and English literature and translation, says if he had to choose between a new shirt or a new book, it would always be the latter.

“A shirt grows old with wear, but a book increases in value as it grows older,” he says. Dr Julian, who translated Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist as a play in Tamil titled Anaathai Oliver in his college days, has also provided the premises for the reading room.

His study room and an adjoining passage at the first floor of his residence in Periyar EVR Salai in KK Nagar have been converted into the library, with a small terrace in the front for browsers. The library is open daily from 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 8pm except on Wednesdays.

A love for books

Both men swear on their early introduction to reading as a key to their project, which was inaugurated in the first week of April. Dr Arunachalam’s father ran a small grocery store, while Dr Julian’s father was an agriculturist. “We are self-made men, who have always loved reading books,” says Dr Arunachalam.

A visit to the residence of former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi made a lasting impression on him.

“I was awestruck to see his collection of books and impressed by how one person could have spent his lifetime reading so many volumes. I decided to try something similar,” he says.

From 1978, through his service and recent retirement, Dr Arunachalam has been a connoisseur of reading material that spans his interest in science, philosophy, the fine arts and high quality research works written in a reader-friendly style.

His journeys abroad introduced him to book fairs, especially discount sales held during the year-end festive weeks. “These exhibitions attract people from all over the world, and it is amazing to see the fan following that books enjoy abroad. It’s almost like the craze for films in our country,” says Dr Arunachalam.

Most of the logistical problem of transporting the books back home would be solved by stuffing them into cabin baggage, he says.

“I would carry as many books as I could with me in those days, because there were no weight limits on hand luggage. Of course now, with so many restrictions, I’ve started to buy books online,” he says.

In the last 10 years of his career, Dr Arunachalam worked on developing anti-cancer drugs, because of which he studied biology, genetics and molecular biology, and yes, expanded his book empire into these fields.

“My collection has books not just related to my specialisation, but many allied subjects that I had to pick up during the course of my work,” he says.

Make knowledge universal

Dr Julian’s collection has a sizeable range of works on Tamil and English literary theory, classic fiction and a large section on Leftist writings. “We would pick up these books at the Main Guard Gate stalls mainly because they were very cheap,” he says.

Sometimes book buying can become an addiction, he says. “It’s very difficult to know when to stop.”

Retirement has changed the perspective of the two friends. When Dr Julian stopped working in 1997, and Dr Arunachalam in 2015, they realised that their collection of books needed a new generation of readers.

“I looked at Dr Julian’s books and realised that they shared many similarities with mine. So I suggested this project to him, and he agreed,” says Dr Arunachalam.

Dr Julian says he was inspired by poet Bharatidasan’s line Arivai virivu sei, agandamakku (expand knowledge — make it universal), which helped him to approve of his friend’s idea.

The duo intend to continue subsidising the reading room’s operational costs with their pension savings. Each book is stamped with the respective owner’s name, and a staff librarian is in the process of creating a digital database of all the titles.

“We hope to add a few computers, and Internet connection in the coming months. We are eagerly waiting for students attempting competitive examinations and core science research to use our books,” says Dr Arunachalam.

So does the reading room signify an end to the book-buying days of Drs Julian and Arunachalam? “Oh no. We will continue to collect books … we will die if we don’t buy!” laughs Dr Arunachalam.

More information on the General Library may be had by calling Dr S Julian (Mob: 9715199770) or Dr S Arunachalam (Mob: 9443245802).


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