Bharati Bhavan Library, Chowk, Allahabad. Poem by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Bharati Bhavan Library, Chowk, Allahabad.

A day in 1923.
The reading room is full.
In pin-dropp silence,
Accountants, homoeopaths,
Petty shopkeepers, students, clerks
Turn the pages
Of the morning papers.
At the issuing desk,
Some are borrowing books:
A detective novel in Urdu
In two volumes;
A free translation
Of a poem by Goldsmith
Printed in Etawah,
Titled Yogi Arthur.

The books
Are still on the shelves,
Their pages brittle
And spines missing.
New readers occupy the chairs,
Turning the pages
Of the morning papers.
Turning pages too,
But of dusty records
In a back room,
Is a researcher from Cambridge, England.
It's her second visit,
And everyone here knows her.
She's looking at Indian reading habits
In the colonial period.

On the pavement,
Is a thriving vegetable market.
Amidst the stalls,
A knife-grinder sets up
His portable establishment
And opens for business.

[From: Both Sides of the Sky (anthology ed. by Eunice de Souza)]

Bijay Kant Dubey 21 August 2020

The poem is a library room view where he observes the lending of books, the tastes of the visitors, their reading habits and silence expected from asking not to disturb and old pale books telling of anonymous writerly presence written long ago or translated.

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Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Lahore / British India (Pakistan)
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