Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ankegowda's library

Back in high school our curriculum included an essay about a craftsman from rural Karnataka who earned his living carving hand-made combs from wood. The focus of the essay was on how modernization was flooding the market with cheap plastic combs and in the process taking away our protagonist's livelihood.The pathos in the essay was persuasive and we were convinced that the government had to step in and help this artisan. Decades of Nehru-Gandhi had also ensured that we were sold on the idea of a nanny-state. Just to trigger a debate, our teacher, without letting us in on her own beliefs, had asked us to explain why we think the government had a role to play in this. Didn't the craftsman have the responsibility to adapt?

I had been unable to decide back then. I was in a similar dilemma last weekend when, while traveling around Mysore, we stumbled on one Mr.Ankegowda. The protagonist here used to be an employee with the sugar factory in Pandavapura. During his tenure there Mr.Ankegowda dedicated nearly 80% of his salary to buying books and in the course of time built a personal library of nearly 10,000 books. He lost his full time job at the factory and turned to his library as a full time occupation. Mr Khoday, of Old Monk fame, was so impressed with the collection that he had a library built. After moving in to its new home the library grew to its current size, boasting about 30k volumes. It has taken enormous resourcefulness on the part of the collection's owner. Even on the day I was there, Mr. Ankegowda was excited about Mysore university auctioning off some of the books from its library that didn't see too much circulation.

Now the beast is big enough that it can't sustain itself and Mr. Ankegowda has been persuading the government to step in and do its bit. Personally, I'm not convinced if state revenue should be used to sustain one man's obsession, but I must say that the place has enough charm that I'd be disappointed to see it neglected. When you are near Mysore, be sure to visit and spend some time at this place. The library lends itself better to serendipitous discovery rather than planned browsing so hop from one stack to the other. You are likely to get served tea by Mr. Ankegowda's wife and if you are friendly enough you might even get invited for lunch. Meanwhile, get the shy Mr. Ankegowda to warm up to you and let you into his secret cache- coins, first editions of various magazines, rare gazettes. On your way out be sure to drop a little something into a box labelled 'Hundi'. There are some obsessions worth preserving.

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