A DATE WITH THE LIBRARY
By Neel Anil Panicker
Inspector Sharma parked his police car behind a side street abutting Karol Bagh Metro Station and walked the next fifty yards leading into the congested bylanes, careful to keep his head down and appear as nondescript as he could.
‘Mingle, be one with your surroundings’, was the salient piece of advice meted out to him by his seniors when he had just begun taking his first tentative steps into the dizzying though highly risky world of professional sleuthing.
Ten minutes later, Sharma found himself at the end of a narrow side street, and staring upwards at a nondescript double storied British–era building. With its plaster peeling off its moth infested outer walls and a huge windowless frontage that was smeared in black soot, the building stood out like a sore thumb even in this most drab of surroundings__a kilometre long circular stench-filled stretch that looked as if it were cold shouldered by the winds of modernity that were blowing all across wannabe bustling Delhi city.
A minute later he had climbed the rickety wooden stairs and walked down the darkened hallway to the left.
Reaching its dead end, he found himself face to face with a wrought iron door above which hung a copper board on which was etched in calligraphic gold the words “Royal Capital Library”.
Sharma drew in a deep breath and wiping the dirt off the seven inch sole of thick leather boots, he pulled the latch and stepped in.
The moment he did so and inspected the new environs he drew in a sharp breath, and for once stood there, completely in awe of what he was looking at.
There they stood; like armies of soldiers, swords in hand, dressed in battle gear, standing proud and tall in the bright red splattered battlefield, all ready and itching for battle; their glossy visages screaming out vengeance and ultimate victory over the formidable enemy.
Only, these were no Alexander’s band of worthy world conquerors but were mere books.
Books of all shapes and sizes and colours and vintage; books that lay in wait, awaiting the dainty hands and nimble fingers of the intellectual warriors who slided from one end to the other of the vast rectangular hall.
Chacko took a 360 degree slow turn as his eyes soaked in every single detail all over the seven rows of neatly lined up books. He noticed that their spines faced outward, that each book was colour coded with dots, that the fiction section was arranged in an alphabetic order, the there were two types of shelves__ the lower ones stacked the children’s section and had soft floor cushions while the others were slightly higher and were choc a block with adult reading material and all around the corners spaces lay a teak wood circular tables around which sat, their heads immersed in thick leather bound tomes, men and women of a certain age, their butts glued to comfy leather arm chairs.
All around muffled stillness and a wizened old silvery haired man, so utterly immobile that one could have been mistaken him for an Egyptian mummy, sat behind a small corner desk marked Librarian, and completed the picture of a place that looked like a much needed oasis of intellectual wealth in a city and world that seemed to have forgotten that there existed a world beyond movies and video games and mindless kitsch.
Here, thought Inspector Sharma, lay all that a person needed for his well being__the best of succour for the mind.
Inadvertently, he let out a sigh. How long had it been since he had stepped into such a library, any library for that matter__one, two, five, ten? Ten long years? As the harsh reality dawned on him, he realised that caught up as he were with chasing criminals and putting to pasture the dregs and deadbeats of the world had left him with no time to
connect with the world of books, with a passion that had consumed his life as a teenager, that had even led to he committing his first ‘crime’.
The thought of crime brought him cruelly back to terra firma. Realising he had a job to do, he looked to his right, found what he was looking for, and walked up the end of the hallway, careful not to make any noise that would disturb the congregation of readers who sat, their heads buried in books, all around him.
“Excuse me, I am looking for Dante’s Inferno”. The man behind the desk looked up at him and nonchalantly replied, ”Ninth column, third row, seventeenth from right”.
Slightly nonplussed but still gladdened by the quick precise response, Inspector Sharma wound his way back.
In no time he had extricated what he was looking for and retreating to a quiet corner, hurriedly opened Page 79. There, lying, as if in wait for him was a half torn white slip of paper with the words, “Tonight, 11: 20; Chattarpur Farm House”.
Inspector Sharma let out a low whistle. Babloo Mental__It was time’s up for Delhi’s most wanted gangster.
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