In all my time at Karachi University (KU) up until this semester, the central library was little more than just a structure that we walked by every day while visiting the canteen. Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I love the idea of spending my days hidden away in bookstores. Libraries, however, are a different story altogether. Since the British Council library closed its doors to outsiders back when I was barely old enough for fairy tales, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting one.
The ideas put in our head about the central library at KU were: ‘It is an old and dusty place’, ‘You get lost in the corridors trying to find your way out’, ‘The staff is so rude, they never help you out’. And my personal favourite: ‘It is a graveyard of books.’
All that changed this semester. With literary research as a compulsory subject, we now had little choice but to visit the library in pursuit of lost literary material. One fine morning our research supervisor took us for the dreaded trip. We went down the stairs, expecting a musty room with books half-eaten by rats and no lights. What we didn’t expect was a huge room, filled with shelves upon shelves of books. I shouldn’t forget to mention that the librarians mirrored our puzzled expressions. The reason for their amazement? We were the first people to visit the literature section in eight years.
Our inhibitions long forgotten, we went about the place looking for our research material. The deeper I went and the more I saw, the more my regret built up. I had missed out on three years’ worth of visits to this long forgotten place.
The lesson I learnt that day, the one I am trying to pass on to you is that it is all very well to visit literature festivals and go to bookstores in pursuit of the latest popular fiction novel. But does that really qualify you as a literary person? I think we owe a little more to literature than that. What literature wants from us is to be read, cherished and remembered. It is, therefore, a task for anyone who calls themselves an avid reader to visit libraries, revive the culture of sitting there and reading for hours on end and paying classic literature its due. Like any old friend, literature likes being remembered, likes being visited, likes spending time with us. Maybe if we started making the effort, of visiting libraries more than malls, it may not take yearly festivals to remind ourselves of how literary we are. We could then go to these festivals to, actually, celebrate literature. So let’s all take a pledge, make a vow and save libraries from turning into graveyards of books.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2015.