Sometimes the most conventional places manage to surprise us, Mussorie was one such spot for me. They call it the cliche hill station now, but I saw the most iconic structure there… The Mussorie Library!
Those who have been reading this page since some time now would have figured it out that mountains are my first love! Every time the four-wheeled vehicle takes the uphill road, my eyes sparkle and the smile widens, leading to at least one dimple visible on my face. If it is an undone route, I wonder what magic awaits me, and if it is an explored one, I am surprised with what was missed earlier.
Believe it or not, but the road to Mussorie was still an undone route for me, until the last weekend of February. Call it a shame or just ironic, but I, in my twenty six years of living in India had not yet witnessed the charisma of the queen of the hills. While the Brits must have whiled away their summers peacefully on this hill top, the town now hustles and bustles with all sorts of eateries and other shops, bringing it off the list of offbeat destinations around Delhi. Yet if someone was to come up with a list of summer vacation destinations around Delhi, Mussorie will top it without an iota of doubt.
So, as my car took rounds of the mountain and started gaining altitude, I wondered what would greet me. Would there be monkeys hopping on the handful of Deodars, would there be too many similar faces on the Mall, would the Mall still have those ancient buildings reminding of the magnificence of the Great British Raj, I could not stop wondering. And as the last curve on the road was conquered, the gears were relaxed for a bit, the Magic of Mussorie cast its spell on me.
It came to me in the most literary form and shape and was extremely pulling from the very first sight. The Mussorie Library, situated right on the cross roads of the Library Chowk left me bedazzled. A public library on a hilltop is like nothing less than cherry on the cake. Though I have always dreamt of books in the woods, this time it appeared in front of me for real. I had no clue about any such structure in this hill station. In fact the building had an air of mystery to itself.
Once again I started to ponder to myself; is it still functional, is it even a public library, does Ruskin Bond ever find his way here, would they let the visitors sit inside. The answers to all these unbridled questions were there inside the mysterious building which I decided to explore.
Mussorie Library stands tall at one of the ends of the Mall which makes it appear like an extension of a shopping arcade. The complex on the ground floor has a lot of showrooms making it difficult to figure out the way to the first floor. Facing towards the arcade, on the right hand side corner you would spot the stairway to heaven.
As I got butterflies in my stomach while climbing up, I also got a bit saddened by looking at the notice on the entrance door which read “For Members Only”. Anyhow determination took me up the wooden stairs. The sound of silence was at its peak. The only sound I heard was that of someone walking towards the entrance. She came out and told me the same once again, ‘the library is for the use of members only.’ I wanted to question her but I dared not. Since my days in Mussorie were numbered, I decided to let it go. As I told her that I am just a visitor in the town and only wish to take a look, she nodded approvingly but at the same time cautioned me not to click any pictures. I assured her of that and because I did not even carry any camera along, she trusted me better.
As I stepped inside the huge entrance door, I saw the wooden cupboards evenly spread across the length and breadth of the room. Some of them were embedded into the wall like the one that used to be in almost every Indian household till some about two decades ago. All of these loosely locked cupboards had books, books that represented an era. The cover pages of many of these books were fading, like a memory being lost. They were not covered with dust, giving it the vibe of an uncared national museum. The titles were unheard. May be my grandfather would have heard some of them. Or they were perhaps older pieces of literature representing the times when Indians were not well versed with the English language.
I moved forward with a focused glance, reading the name of almost every book. The subjects seemed to be interlinked. I wondered if all this literature has become obsolete in today’s age and time. I am not sure; it is still a good reference point for comparison between the generations; the comparison of now and then. The cataloguing was also manual. In fact it felt good to not see any of the modern materials around this place. The belonging to books seems deeper when men use their own sense of arranging and rearranging.
On my right hand side, I could see tiny rooms full of almirahs and yet space for one to sit. The solitude in these spaces was soothing. It was rustic as well as attractive. For some, it would be addictive; an addiction to the aroma of the pages, that have not met a reader since long. Everything here has a vintage look, whether it is the hard wood table, the cloth of the floral print around the seating, the photographs of the royal men and women, everything looks antique. Through the window of these reading rooms, the view is restricted and offers the sight of only a tall mountain, home to many of the chirpy sounds. Once in a while, they would visit, say hello and break the silence.
Even with so much cold and shrill, the Mussorie library is a warm place. I started a word with the only other soul in the building. I asked her about the procedure for procuring membership to which she replied with pride, ‘it is available only for the locals of Mussorie’. At present there are only seventy members, Ruskin Bond is one of them, though he does not visit Mussorie often.
While most books are preserved from the pre independence era, some new material does arrive once every year. The membership fee is nominal and allows users to borrow the books; however, rarely anyone pays a visit. Neither a tourist attraction, nor a regular spot for members, my heart ached at the thought of losing touch with this paradise. I longed to stay there and possess the treasure but all I had an informal permission to look at it from a safe distance. I extended my hand forward towards them in a friendly way but it was futile and my connection with them was only to gape at them with all the awe. Thirty minutes of staring at books would not quench any readers’ thirst but will only reassure that books have always been man’s best friend. They are a reassurance well created by the man and for the man.