Growing up, the library was the most fascinating place in the entire school. I was 2nd grade when we were first allowed to go inside the library. Now, I am a short girl. Back then I was even shorter. Seeing tall shelves packed full of books of all shapes and sizes, I was simply dazzled. And then there was the coveted restricted section where there were books that can not be checked out of the library but senior students were allowed to sit there and study. The closed glass doors were a promise of a dreamland.
The library was no less than a fantasy land for me. Our school librarians were very attuned to what kids should and shouldn't read. So all the kiddy books were on lower shelves and serious books were on higher shelves, literally out of our reach. I would look at them longingly and satisfy my reading desires by the kiddy books in the meanwhile.
I started with Enid Blyton’s books. Not the Famous Five but the illustrated Noddy series. Soon I was done will all the illustrated books, all the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and anything else I could get my hands on. I would ask taller students to hand me books on higher shelves and continued reading upward.
When I grew a little taller and was now able to access all the shelves on my tippy toes, I was surprised to find that there was another row of books behind the ones visible on the outside. This opened doors to another new world of books. These hidden books were the ones our school librarians didn't think were appropriate for students (then why were they stored in the school library was beyond my understanding). These were mostly Sidney Shelton and James Hardly Chase books. Mainly books that had some sort of sex scene.
I managed to devour most of them before they were permanently removed and replaced by books on calculus. Now that was more acceptable reading material as per my school.
This trend was seen in the students as well. Those who loved to enjoy illustrated books and magazines as little kids grew up to just focus on study books. I mean there is nothing wrong in reading study books apart from the prescribed textbooks. But fiction is the fertilizer for the mind. It helps the mind to keep its imagination alive. Even now, I do read non-fiction books on various topics. But it is fiction that satisfies my parched soul.
And the coveted restricted section in the library. That turned out to be the most disappointing section for me. It was full of maths and physics books full of numerical problems. And the senior students allowed inside would sit and solve those problems. I know that would be no short of dreamland for the budding mathematicians. I too did spend a lot of time in there solving numerical. But every time I was in there, I always had a fiction book checked out and ready in my bag waiting for me to finish studies and then return to it.
My love affair with books was never one-sided. If I loved books with all my heart and soul, I found that books too loved me in return. It was children’s fables books which taught me morals and formed my view on right and wrong. It was fairytales that taught me telling lies is wrong and being good in any adversity ultimately leads to a happy ending.
Books became my best friends. I knew I would never be alone as long as I have my hoard of fictional characters along with me. Maybe that why even as a grown-up, I don't feel lonely as long as I have a book or two with me.
I haven't been to my school in over a decade. I don't know how my old library looks now. But in my mind, I can still picture the entrance, the shelves, the books, the long tables and chairs next to them and I start feeling nostalgic.