Most libraries have a ‘silence, please’ sign. But when you are located at the country’s most famous protest arena, the Jantar Mantar road, silence can be a distant dream.
The little-known Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel Smarak Trust library is located in a colonial building on the Jantar Mantar road. On an average, there are eight to ten protests held near it every day, with around 400 protesters trying to make themselves heard at any given time. While it attracts few students and researchers, many a time protesters too walk in.
“Being located at Jantar Mantar road, we are subjected to slogan-shouting and blaring of loudspeakers all the time,” says Jogendri Chandra, the library in-charge. “The din of the myriad protests, processions, demonstrations and dharnas disturbs our readers and researchers,” she says.
And Chandra is not exaggerating. Even as she speaks to HT, she tries hard to be heard over the noise of loudspeakers outside. The library’s closed doors only dampen the noise, but are not able to shut it out completely. “In fact, on a couple of occasions even traces of tear gas used on protesters on the nearby Parliament Street seeped into our reading room and we had to keep our door closed for hours.”
The bigger challenge is when protesters troop into the reading room asking for water and permission to use the library’s washrooms.
“Not long ago, a stick-wielding protester entered the library and decided to rest on sofas meant for researchers. When protesters get rowdy or violent we get worried and ask some our staff to lock the library from the outside,” says Chandra.
The building at 7 Jantar Mantar, which served as the AICC headquarters between 1947 and 1969, now also houses the offices of Janta Dal (United), Akhil Bhartiya Seva Dal, All India Freedom Fighters and many others.
“We have one of the most beautiful reading rooms in the Capital, but unfortunately, not many people know about our library,” says Chandra who has been working here for the past two decades.
The library is one of the few in the city that exudes an old-world charm. Fans and tubelights hang from its high ceiling. The reading room has a large desk and upholstered wood chairs and sofas. Framed portraits of various national leaders adorn the white teak-panelled walls.
The library has over 20, 000 books on political science, history, biographies, Congress bulletins and resolutions and tapes of speeches of Congress leaders at AICC sessions.
“On an average, 10-15 people visit our library every day, most of them researchers. At times, foreigners, especially those from the UK, come here for research on Indian politics and the Congress party,” says Chandra.
Ramesh Tiwari, 26, a student of political science is here on a hot day and has an interesting take on the library’s location. “There is no reason why protests and politics and the study of political science cannot go together,” he says.
Chandra, however disagrees. “Politics and protests should go somewhere else, all we want is peace at the library.”