STOP FOR A MO­MENT... AND LOOK AT THE BOOK

Domus - - CONFETTI - Jerry Pinto, Chi­rodeep Chaud­huri

A re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion — a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween writer Jerry Pinto and photographer Chi­rodeep Chaud­huri — is a pho­to­graphic at­tempt to look into the heart of Mum­bai’s Peo­ple’s Free Read­ing Room and Li­brary, and to see how time ages that heart, how it works a cer­tain ele­giac magic on the pages of the book. A rare book is much more than its words; it may never be read; it may never be opened even so as not to dam­age its spine. It may turn from book to fetish ob­ject and its fetishi­sa­tion is an in­dex, not of its cul­tural value, but its eco­nomic worth. The show looks at how time in­ter­acts with the book, how books re­spond to use. Can one di­vine the way a book has lived sim­ply from look­ing at its pages, look­ing closely, look­ing re­spect­fully?

The li­brary is an an­cient hu­man in­sti­tu­tion, an ex­ten­sion in brick and mor­tar of the brain, an ex­pan­sion across time and space of the hu­man cere­brum.

The li­brary is a vain at­tempt to cap­ture what we know when what we know is al­ways in flux and our ways of know­ing have been chal­lenged re­peat­edly and var­i­ously.

The li­brary is an elit­ist in­sti­tu­tion, based on the premise that the only knowl­edge worth hav­ing is the ab­stract knowl­edge that will al­low for cap­ture. It is not in­ter­ested in non-ab­stractable knowl­edge.

The li­brary is a dream space, a fevered dream space, a Bor­ge­sian dream of in­fin­ity. Any li­brary with more than 40,000 books will de­feat the long­est hu­man life, even if you read a book a day. This li­brary has more than 40,000 books.

The li­brary is a space for imag­i­na­tion, for day­dream, for in­ven­tion, for re­search, for in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The li­brary is more than the sum of its parts.

If you need to look for what it means to be hu­man, look no fur­ther than the near­est li­brary. If you need to look for what it means to be inhuman, look no fur­ther than the man who burns a book.

Choose your def­i­ni­tion. Even as you choose, know this. That ed­i­fice which looks so im­pos­ing, those rows of books which look so wel­com­ing, they are as sus­cep­ti­ble to the pas­sage of time as you are. Time rav­ages books just as much as sil­ver­fish, mildew, and blades wielded in se­cret and in si­lence. The book has many en­e­mies. So have li­braries.

But the worst en­emy of all is the sound of re­ced­ing foot­steps, as peo­ple walk away from li­braries. Tell me, when did you last go to the li­brary?

When you take that selfie, it is to re­mind your­self that some­thing hap­pened to you. It is equally im­por­tant to show it to others so that they may be told that some­thing hap­pened to you.

This is not a habit we’ve just de­vel­oped. It’s called self-con­scious­ness and it goes back to the time our tribe first told sto­ries around bon­fires, chanted hymns to the forces of na­ture and scratched wall paint­ings on to the in­te­ri­ors of caves.

When the world came of age, when print­ing met pa­per met al­pha­bets, we be­gan to write books. Books are self­ies too. There is no art form that is not a selfie. The selfie is only the most naked of the lot. (That em­bar­rasses us.) Think of the li­brary as the selfie of our tribe. This is what it means to be hu­man. This is what it means to re­mem­ber. This is how we re­mem­ber. Do we re­mem­ber how we used to re­mem­ber?

Be­fore the selfie?

I do not want to write about this.

I do not want to write about li­braries. It’s some­how too per­sonal.

I can­not re­mem­ber ever feel­ing that I be­longed in a li­brary. They seemed to be built for other peo­ple. For schol­ars, for men who fit those big arm­chairs, for women who had given their lives to schol­ar­ship or more of­ten, to the abet­ment of schol­ar­ship.

I have never felt wor­thy of any li­brary that I wanted to be a mem­ber of.

I still do not want to write this.

I do not want to love these pho­tographs. They are death pic­tures.

Here are books dy­ing, be­ing eaten by time and its co­horts in crime: mois­ture, mildew, an­i­mals, in­sects.

I can’t stand here too long.

There is a cer­tain colour here.

It’s not yel­low, it’s not brown, and no, it’s not sepia, that most mis­un­der­stood of colours. it’s the colour of old pa­per.

It’s the colour of tree-corpse-flakes dy­ing in their turn.

In old li­braries, old books wait.

They wait in vain.

Now when they are picked up, their pages flake.

When you blow on them, to dis­turb the dust, the ink seems to shiver. With­out ink, what is a book?

I want to write bravely: the li­brary lives.

I want to write de­fi­antly: the book lives. In­stead I say: I do not want to write about li­braries.

My con­so­la­tion?

This is wall text and it will evap­o­rate with this show. These words will van­ish too.

Op­po­site page and be­low: The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tured pho­tographs shot at Mum­bai’s Peo­ple’s Free Read­ing Room and Li­brary, nar­rat­ing a story of the li­brary through im­ages of the books rather than those of the place

Right: Chi­rodeep Chaud­huri (left) and Jerry Pinto (right) cap­tured at the Peo­ple’s Free Read­ing Room and Li­brary, Mum­bai. (photo by Vedika Sing­ha­nia)

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