The Kindle might be cool, but it’s got nothing on the good old fashion book. First, there’s that weirdly intoxicating vanilla-grass scent an older tome gives off (people have even tried to bottle it). And then there’s the fact that no GenXer, or Millennial of a slighter older vintage can give up the habit of actually turning pages.
As heritage explorer and archaeologist Kurush F Dalal says, “Since their inception, and before the Internet was invented, libraries have been created to share knowledge. There’s no use showcasing a library just as a structure. Many of our libraries have unique histories and architecture attached to them that are not exploited fully. There is no active management policy undertaken by libraries in India because they are run by people who don’t understand the digital age. However, if you combine these with new-age tools like Wi-Fi and a modern ambience, there is no reason why libraries can’t thrive again.”
So for those bibliophiles who still enjoy their books, we’ve handpicked 9 libraries in India that we hope you will escape to as soon as possible, WiFi access or not.
Asiatic Society, Mumbai
The star of many advertisements and movies shot in Mumbai, the Asiatic Society building, built in the Greek and Roman style, was founded by Sir James Mackintosh. It was established in 1804 and is also known as the Town Hall building. This blockbuster library contains over 15,000 rare books and is most famous for holding one of only two original copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Connemara Public Library, Chennai
Google’s got nothing on this library. While the internet giant might be working to digitize book from across major research libraries, the Connemara Public Library has been storing a copy of every book, newspaper and periodical published in India. Since 1896. As if that weren’t enough, the place is also a depository library for the United Nations. Imagine the millions of stories waiting for you to explore here!
David Sassoon Library, Mumbai
The David Sassoon Library lies in the heart of the art deco district of Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. Built in 1870, it is the oldest library that almost wasn’t in Mumbai, taking on its current avatar when the money to build a science and technology ran out. The library’s 35,000-book collection is peppered with those that date back to colonial times, so take your pick and head to the (secret-ish) garden. Today, the library and garden hold many performances and book readings during the annual Kala Ghoda festival.
India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
This red-brick institution, designed by Joseph Stein, sits in the heart of the Capital and is home to the very modern (compared to the other libraries on this list at least, at least) Habitat Library and Resource Centre. While the HLRC has been design to encourage readers to incubate their ideas; it’s worth heading over here to explore their collection of books on Delhi, design and architecture.
National Library of India, Alipore
The official residence of the Lt Governor of Bengal during the Raj, the 30-acre National Library of India is the largest library in the country by volume with more than two million books in its collection. In fact, when it was first established as the Calcutta Public Library in 1836, it was one of the world’s best libraries in terms of organisation and efficiency. On your next visit to the City of Chaos, find peace and a vintage periodical to ogle over.
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi
This collection of charming colonial structures has been home to some illustrious men, including the British Armed Forces chief, and after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru. Now the buildings house a museum and library dedicated to India’s Independence movement and are a leading centre for information on Nehru, his mentor Mahatma Gandhi, as well as other freedom fighters. So if you’re a history buff, Nehru fan, or just plain curious, you know where to head. Of course, as the library has grown in size, new buildings have been built to house books.
Raza Library, Rampur (Uttar Pradesh)
Housed in a palace, the Raza Library contains rare works of Islamic calligraphy, notable historical documents and over 30,000 books in its collection. Established by Nawab Faizullah Khan, who ruled Rampur from 1774 to 1794, the library is today one of the biggest in Asia and a must-see in its own right.
Seshadri Memorial Hall Library, Bengaluru
It isn’t a well-kept secret, but if you aren’t in on it yet, walk through Cubbon Park towards the Seshadri Memorial Hall, that circular red stone, gabled building that is a city icon. The hall, which is Bengaluru’s apex public library, houses more than 2.5 lakh books in its 300 sq km radius. If you love reading outdoors, then pick a book and head to the rose garden surrounding it for a dose of Romanticism.
State Central Library, Hyderabad
Formerly known as the Asafia Library, Hyderabad’s State Central Library is one of South India’s biggest. The heritage structure was built in 1891 and should be on any history buff’s go-to list for information on manuscripts from the fifth and sixth centuries, as well as news and periodicals from the 1940s onwards.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com; Images via Asiatic Society; Connemara Public Library; David Sassoon Library; India Habitat Centre; National Library of India; Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; Raza Library; Seshadri Memorial Hall Library; State Central Library