I have spent 38 years on this campus and the one thing that I can tell you as a result is this: I shall die a happier and more contented man than many others on this planet.
The lure of KGP is its people – all these bright, young minds as much as their brilliant teachers and mentors. And all these books that you see around me. These books are my passion – they are like my children.
Today, as a part time librarian in this Hall Library post retirement, I handle the entire process – from the acquisition of books to their cataloguing and arrangements, keeping track of them and ensuring the right library ambience. Ask me about any title, any author – and if it is here, I shall tell you. The trust, the appreciation and the respect that I enjoy from the students, the Library Secretary, the Hall warden – that is the highest reward I have for my work.
I joined IIT Kharagpur as an employee at the Central Library and some years later, I was approached by then warden of Nehru Hall to handle some responsibilities at the Hall library for a few hours in the evenings, after my regular work hours or whenever time permitted. I said I’d be delighted – that’s how it all started and here I am, in that journey still. Even after retirement. I could have just spent my retired life like any other – lazing at home, doing domestic tasks, playing with my grandson. But there’s a magic in this campus – you’d never leave if you had a chance to be here. I was fortunate to have had that chance.
I come here for a bit in the mornings and then again for the entire evening. I don’t keep track of hours. Sometimes, I’d just be locking up for the day and someone would come rushing with a request: “Please, Dulal-da, I really need that book.” I cannot say No, can I? We are here to facilitate their studies, how do a few extra minutes of duty make a difference?
I remember the early days in the Central Library, Midnight used to be closing hour. We would keep going around the heads pored over the books five minutes before closing, and they would keep saying, “Just a minute.” Especially right before exams. ‘Just one minute’ stretched into quite a few, but I don’t think any of us ever minded that. It is a strange sense of satisfaction that you get when you are helping such brilliant minds in their pursuit of knowledge.
It is a fact that library usage has gone down a lot in the age of the Internet. But I still feel nothing can replace a book. And the continuing footfalls, though less than earlier, tell me that a good many others even in this current generation also feel the same way. Every semester we keep getting requests for more books, more editions. We really need a larger space now for this library.
And then there are the memories. 38 years is a long time. There are so many, I don’t know how to filter them. Some years back, a student came rushing just as I was closing the Hall library. I thought it would be the usual last minute request for a book. So I opened the doors, and led him in. But no! It turned out he just wanted to sit and sing a song for me that he had just learnt! Such childish claims on you fill you with a warmth difficult to express in words.
There are the shared confidences, too. One of the brightest boys of his batch once came to me with a fallen face and shared how his mother refused to allow him to apply abroad. She did not want the only son to leave the country and home. I asked him to go slow, explained things to him from his mother’s perspective. He stayed on for a few more years, convinced his parents and then went abroad. Years later, when he came back to visit KGP, he made it a point to come meet me and we reminisced those conversations all over again.
Whenever older students come back, visit the library and congratulate me on my work, I feel flushed with pride. They are all so dear to me. Around two years back, one such alumnus visited the Hall. He had a lot of people around him, and everyone in the hostel was so eager to meet him. But he still took out time to visit the library. After going around carefully, just before leaving, he placed a hand on my shoulders, and said, “Very well maintained.” I felt a little bit taller at that moment. The name of the alumnus: Sundar Pichai.
(As told to Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya)