Habba Kadal library: Fall from the grace

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by Irtiza Rafiq

Srinagar

A semi-collapsed house, a huge garbage cart overflowing with heaps of stinky trash, and an old defunct auto-rickshaw are what catches the attention before a staircase leads to the library in Habba Kadal area in Shaher-e-Khaas of Srinagar.

File image of a book in library

The library which treasures around thirty thousand books operates from this derelict building since last 24-years now.

“I came to this library looking for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but it is a mess here,” said Hina, a literature student from Zaindar Mohalla.

When Hina asked the staff to help her to find the book she wanted, the response was that we are busy with stock verification. “They said either I should find it on my own or try my luck at City Central library at Karan Nagar,” said Hina.

Housing books on various subjects, there is no system in place. There are around seven compartments carrying books labeled: geography, history, and reference. Interestingly, there is no separate section for literature, or arts etc.

“At first I tried to locate Shakespeare on my own but when I saw agriculture, science and psychology books stacked in the history section, I realized it is a futile task,” said Hina, who left within ten minutes of her arrival.

The mess is not visible only on stacks, but it is equally messy for those who bring their own books to read.

“The ambiance inside the library puts one off instantly,” said Shaizan, a non-medical student from Tankipora.

There are only twelve seats available inside the library, that too often covered by piles of books, scattered everywhere.

“The over-all look and feel of this place is nothing short of a haunted place. There are dirty and soiled toilets,” said Shaizan. “There is no lighting system and it is poorly ventilated that one chokes for air and light. And on top of that, there is constant honking of cars and shouting of vendors from the market outside.”

Since 1994, this library functions from the first and second floor of a three-storey building. The rest of the space is used by Mohammad Ishaq Sheikh, the owner of the building for his business activities.

The owner blames authorities for dilapidated condition of this building, as the rent per square feet has not changed since 1994.  “For an area of 2000 sq ft they provide me Rs 4000 per month which is Rs 2 per sq ft,” said Sheikh. “How can I repair it and keep it in good condition.”

Not so long ago Habba Kadal library was the one-stop address for all book lovers, who would sit inside for hours, looking between covers with fascination.

“It used to be my favourite when I was a child,” Suniya Waheed Mir, a Kashmir University scholar living nearby. “But with time I realized, the library has obsolete books. I couldn’t find material for my management course or review literature for my research.”

As the library failed to keep pace with the changing times and demands of the book lovers, the footfall fell drastically. “Ironically, most of the new generation of book lovers don’t even know about this library,” said Mir.

The visitor’s book of the library bears testimony to its fall from grace. Till 3 pm, the visitor’s book has recorded only three visitors at the library.

“I don’t understand why students don’t come here to get the benefit of our rich resources,” said Rufaida Shaheen, in-charge of the library. “We have study material for JEE, NEE, IAS, LLB and also e-books.

Shaheen believes students can benefit from library’s “huge resource” base which will help them in professional exams. “They won’t need private tuitions if they come to this library,” feels Shaheen.

In order to boost footfall of students in the library, a special drive was undertaken by the officials last year.

“We tried to counsel the students by visiting schools in the locality to help them understand the importance of a library,” said Shaheen. “But they don’t seem to be interested.”

Subtly commenting on the location and setting of library Shaheen said, “As an outsider, I can say the setting of the library is unwelcoming and upsetting. But as an employee I can’t say anything.”

She was quick to add, “Once the stock verification is done a lot of mess will be cleared. We have already requested shifting of the library to Lal Mandi.”

 

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