The Lending Libraries of Madras
Indian Economy & Market|July 2021
Madras (what to do, I’m still uncomfortable with Chennai and Mumbai) will always have a special place in my life.
Krishna Kumar Mishra

I was 17, when with a suitcase in hand, first time I walked out of the Madras Central railway station, the huge majestic building, designed with a combination of Gothic and Romanesque styles. It was love at first sight and I felt being part of its history, like a character in any Dickensian novel. Thankfully, I remained one, right from that moment for another four years, as a result of very sincere and pragmatic efforts by some very nice people, whom I met there the first time. In the process I learned so much about the happenings of the century I was born in – certainly the 20th Century was the bloodiest of all.

Madras was the place I grew up intellectually, although I was studying engineering, a dry and bland subject. The credit goes to some private lending libraries, second-hand bookstore owners and some very enthusiastic old people I met; in all of whom I literally saw an abstract image of the captivating song “No matter what the future brings/As time goes by” from the classic film Casablanca. Kamal Haasan was ruling the celluloid; but you could still catch Rajinikanth shooting on Mount Road for Billa, a remake of the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan starrer Hindi movie Don which in 2007 again inspired Meher Ramesh to reremake the same with the same title Billa in Tamil.

Those days Madras was full of private lending libraries right up to Tambram, the far Southern end of the city suburb. I’ve never seen private libraries, anywhere else. In later years I came across two in Pune – one behind the Deccan Gymkhana bus stop and another near Alka Talkies on Tilak Road. But those two were too modern – full of Mills & Boon and other popular literature. In Madras there were lending libraries concentrating on specific topics. These were run mostly by some very well-read retired gentlemen who were more interested to interact with nicer people rather than making money.

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