Welcome to my childhood world of books! .
You would have heard of the Dolls museum in New Delhi… Started by the greatest Grandfather of all time – Shankar of Shankar’s weekly immortality (far more than fame)… It is Shankar who started this museum, sometime forty or fifty years back…. A place where I have spent a substantial part of my school holidays, in the magic world of children’s books… It started like this. Maybe I was ten or eleven years old… I had written a poem and showed it to my father. The next day he took me to Nehru House, the building which houses Dolls Museum, and introduced me to the one and only Kesava Shankar Pillai … I remember the day still.. Shankar fixed his eyes on me… Read my poem… Spoke to me… Went in somewhere and came back with a load of children’s books, and just gifted them to me… Books published by his Children’s Book Trust… Many written and illustrated by him. He then took me to the BC Roy Children’s Library, right there, and enrolled me as a member. A world of children’s books opened for me… I went there whenever I could. Fact that my father’s office (CAG office) was right opposite helped. I would go with him, spend the day in the library, and then return with him… My favorite was Billy Bunter Series. I read them all. Then there were all the Enid Blytons, the Hardy Boys series, Three investigators. Biggles, Jennings, Nancy Drew, etc etc etc… After I passed out of school, I had to leave Delhi, to pursue my engineering studies. And I never went back to see the library. Till a few weeks ago. Last month, in June, when I was in Delhi, I was in that area. Having lunch with a colleague. After lunch, I took him along, and went checking on the library. It was still there…. I went up, feeling rather like a child, somewhat nervous, and opened the door… And I looked in… It was like coming back to heaven… A heaven of one’s childhood, which had not changed a bit…
An elderly librarian waved us in…. The layout was more or less the same… The shelves of books had were in the same places. The walls were lined up with children’s paintings. The low tables and chairs were still there… Stamps from around the world were showcased in glass…. Lets pause a moment… Who was this BC Roy after whom this library is named? Many of us would have seen greetings of “Happy Doctors Day’ on 1st of July…. That day is celebrated in honor of Dr BC Roy. He was born on July 1 1882 and he died on July 1 1962. About him, here’s an excerpt from The Hundu, in article tiled “A Doctor Par Excellence’ – “Dr. B.C. Roy was one of the foremost national leaders of the 20th century. A legendary physician, distinguished political leader, philanthropist, educationist and social worker, he was one of the longest serving Chief Ministers and is rightly hailed as the Maker of Modern West Bengal.”.. A look at his Wikipedia entry will tell us how great a man he was. He was awarded Bharat Ratna too, and he was one who deserved that and more.
As great as him was the man who made the library named after him. Sri Kesava Shankar Pillai. His wikipedia entry begins – “Kesava Shankara Pillai (Malayalam: കെ. ശങ്കര് പിള്ള) (31 July 1902 – 26 December 1989), better known as Shankar, was an Indian cartoonist. He is considered the father of political cartooning in India. He founded Shankar’s Weekly, India’s Punch in 1948. Shankar’s Weekly also produced cartoonists like Abu Abraham, Ranga and Kutty, he closed down the magazine during the Emergency of 25 June 1975. From then on he turned to making children laugh and enjoy life. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1976, the second highest civilian honour given by the Govt. of India. Today he is most remembered for setting up Children’s Book Trust established 1957 and Shankar’s International Dolls Museum in 1965.”
For me, as for thousands and thousands of children across the world, Shankar was someone from Devaloka, Our house (with many children) subscribed to ‘Children’s World’ magazine that he brought out. All of us brothers (four) have written poems and stuff, in the magazine. I have participated in the annual Shankar’s On the Spot Painting Competition, which was held in Delhi, sometime around February (I think). The competition, which commenced sometime in early 1950s and is on till this day. There was also the worldwide Shankar’s International Children’s Competition, of art and writing, which now gets more than a hundred and fifty thousand entries every year….. And the prizes, in those days, was given by dignitaries such as the Prime Minister or President of India.. Such was it’s magic! How can one ever thank that world’s greatest and most hard working magician, Sri Kesava Shankar Pillai!
Coming back to my visit to the BC Roy library.. The rows of bookshelves are designed keeping children in mind. Books within easy reach of small kids. Rows narrow walkway in between…. Broad for kids… .
I instinctively walked to the shelves which had Billy Bunter books…They were not there… I went to the catalog, just like I did forty years ago, found some Billy Bunter books and went looking for them…. They had all been borrowed. Found some Hardy Boys books.. .
My friend was chatting with the librarian.. Called me over… The librarian told me he was there since the early 70s, which meant that he was there when I had been coming. I said I remembered a Malayalee librarian. He said – Yes, that was the main librarian, and he and another lady assisted that gentleman… He had joined the library when he was in his early 20s… A lovely man. Serving the cause of children’s reading for over forty years. Surely some award should be given to him. Here he is… A Mr Rana, if I recall his name right.
Reluctantly, taking leave of the library, I went down to the Children’s Book Trust shop… What a spread! .
I found books that were presented to me by the great Mr Shankar, all those years ago. Still there. Still beckoning me with their magic. I bought some of those books, the very titles which I had savored when I was a kid. I bought them now, as a gift for my new born grandson, for him to read a few years from now…. .
It cost less than 200 Rs for five books.. The four above, and one biography of Shankar, written by his daughter in law Alaka Shankar, all in good paper, beautifully illustrated (by Shankar himself), large fonts… I also found ‘Children’s World’ magazine, and bought one for Rs 20…. Browsing through the biography of Shankar, I found an old black and white photo of the BC Roy library…. I think I am there in it. .
The one in the black shirt, right in the middle. I think that’s me, and on my left, my elder brother… Not sure…
But back now,
just as happy,
in a selfie,
in the BC Roy children’s library…
That’s all for now. This is Inky, Hurree Jamshet Ram Singh, the Nabob of Bhanipur, signing off from the library of Greyfriars school!
The joyfullness is terrific!