The Library

January 30, 1905. One stormy day in Madras, rain was lashing all over the city. Sundaram Pillai’s health, which rapidly deteriorated for the past 2 weeks was getting worse today. He usually was able to get up and sit in his bed for eating his food, but today he just couldn’t get up. He was worried that he would leave the world without accomplishing much.

A retired high school headmaster, he was fond of teaching and he considered sharing knowledge to others as the sole purpose of his life, best of all he believed knowledge should be freely available to anyone who seeks it. A few years back he had started a library using an old building he had inherited from his grandfather with all the books he had, books donated and books bought from his retiral money. It was not enough to match the city library, which was only for the priviledged, but not free though. He was disappointed that he couldn’t accomplish much with his library. Mohan Pillai, his son, a civil engineer, who graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy, last year was his only hope. But Mohan along with his British friend Harris were only interested in constructing bridges and buildings.

Mohan sat next to his father, trying to help him up to sit for his breakfast.

“I can’t son, It is all over for me. My dreams are still just a dream ..” he coughs and pauses to catch breath. “… dream… and will be gone when I leave this world”.
“No Appa! You will be alright. You just need some rest. Please drink this juice and sleep for a while.” He slowly lifted his father’s head and gave him some juice and medicine. He fell asleep, still thinking of his dream.

Mohan leaves downstairs to his study room, waiting for Harris to join him. Harris comes sharply at 9 AM even on that heavy downpour. He was always punctual.

“Mohan! Good morning. How are you today?”
“huh … alright! Come on in. Let me get you some tea first”
Harris hangs his coat and hat and sits on the jute chair in the living room, as Mohan walks to the kitchen to get some tea for him.
“Are you alright! You don’t seem to be ok.”
Mohan didn’t respond.
“How is your father? What did the doctor say?”
“He should be ok, Doctor said it was viral fever, it might take another week’s rest I guess”
A few minutes of silence and then Mohan walks in with tea pot and cups. He serves tea for Harris and himself.
“Harris! I think I should help my father with his library.”
“Look! I agree your father was a great teacher, but it is highly impractical to establish a free library”
Mohan sighed “There must be some way!” and he puts the tea cup on the table and heads to the study room. Harris follows him. They get busy with drawing the plan for a bridge.

The next morning, Mohan walks up to his father’s room. He sits near his father and gently taps him to wake him up. He waits a few seconds, taps again. Sundaram was in deep sleep, drained into his dream, his thoughts. He was in deep sleep, that he could never wake up, his thoughts remained, an unfulfilled journey of a soul temporarily ends.

Mohan was dejected, he wished one day his father’s dream would come true, Free knowledge for everyone. He went on with life, donated all the books in his father’s library to the city library and sold the building.

Summer 1935. Mohan is now married for 25 years and his son Sundaram was studying Civil engineering in the same college just like his father. Sundaram was very brilliant and active. Although he was an Engineer, his interests were to serve his country. He deeply adored Gandhi and his principles. He privately wrote articles in college and distributed it among his friends. He was dying to join the freedom movement and make a mark in the society with his ideas.

Sundaram finds a job in the city library during his summer holidays. It was actually no job, He hardly needed to work for an hour a day and for the rest of the time he roamed around rack by rack reading the titles of the books. He would be bored by lunch time and
return to his desk and start writing articles on various topics or simply pick a book at random and start reading. It was not interesting at all, he only understood his subjects of interest and the rest of it was simply random words for him. He was only able to remember some keywords.

“Ganesh sir! It has been only few days, I am already getting bored of this job”
Ganesh iyer was a middle aged man and would have been the only librarian if Sundaram had not joined him.
“Sundar, this is a big library, I am sure you will be able to find something interesting to do.”
“No sir … I don’t think so. I am going to join the freedom movement once I finish college. I wanted a job just to keep myself busy this summer”
“hmm.. Well! Are you busy?”

Sundar nodded his head sideways and slowly walked to the ladder to look for interesting books in the top shelves. Nothing interested him other than a small section of books.

The next morning, he came a little late to the Library.
“Ganesh sir, sorry I was late. I overslept last night”
“That’s all right, there should be no work today. But I hope you can get busy!”
Sundar curiously looked at Ganesh’s sarcastic smile and went to his desk. He was right, there was absolutely no work. He started wondering, what he was going to do the whole day. He was also feeling guilty that he was getting paid for doing no work. He had no idea what to do.

He starts off by picking a random book from a rack and read the first chapter. He remembers a few words, puts back the book, hops to another rack and looks for some of the words he read in the previous book. It took him till lunch to find 2 books that had those words. All of those 3 books were from different categories but it sure gave him some valuable information. He was standing at the first floor and shouted to Ganesh sir.

“Ganesh sir, we have a catelogue right at that corner that is arranged by categories and last names of authors. Is there any other way we can look up for books?”
Ganesh sir thought for a while.
“Well! You ought to know the subject that you are reading, which means you should know your category. That is why it is arranged like this”
“No I didn’t ask that sir! Is there any other way we can look for books?”
“What is your point genius?”
“If I want a book on History of Electricity, will it be in Category: Physics or Electricity or History?”
“So History of Electricity is only of interest to a Historian and not a Physicist?”
At this point, Ganesh got up realising it was not a silly question any more. Ganesh realised, that question from Sundar explained everything that Sundar had in his mind.

Sundar had only 2 weeks left in his summer holidays, but was determined to atleast start with something on this mountaineous task. He took keywords from a book and tried to link it with any other book which had those same words. It wasn’t easy but he thought it would be useful to classify it that way. So he went on by grabbing keywords from book and with Ganesh’s help he kept searching all the books to find those that would match perfectly. He formed a separate catelogue this way.

Of Course, two weeks were not enough for this Herculean task. Sundar had to go back to College after that and then his path changed. He had no time for the library. The following week he came to the library in the evening just before closing time to see if Ganesh sir was continuing that.

“We’re closing!” said a voice behind a stack of books as Sundar pushed the door and got in.
“It’s me Ganesh sir!” Sundar said as he walked to the desk “oh! Where is Ganesh sir?”
There was someone else sitting.
“He had to go to his hometown, his Father died 3 days back. I am just a substitute Librarian”
Sundar sighed and walked to the door. The librarian got up from his desk and was ready to close the library.
“Just out of curiosity, did he say anything about that new catelogue in that corner?”
“Well! No … actually I didn’t know it was new. Although, I have noticed more people using the one you mentioned than the one here”
“Thank you!”
Sundar was delighted, that a small task that he did for a few days has been benefiting a few readers.

Life went on. Ganesh sir never came back. Sundar finished his college and actively involved himself in the freedom movement. He participated in the Quit-India movement and became a martyr, but his thoughts remained, an unfulfilled journey of a soul ended temporarily.

Decades passed. 1996. A bright computer engineer from Anna University gets to go to Stanford for his post graduation. He stuns a few brilliant minds with his capabilities. Sundar Raman graduates from Stanford after a couple of years and joins a startup company in California, which is now the leading Internet search company. The thoughts continued and a journey was getting fulfilled.


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