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  • Through the pages of history

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    The Madras Literary Society, Chennai. | Photo Credit: R.Pavithra

    The Madras Literary Society, Chennai. | Photo Credit: R.Pavithra

    Despite its dwindling membership, The Madras Literary Society, home to several books dating back to the 18th and 19th Centuries, continues to guard its rich legacy

    Nestled between 70,000 tomes is a world of books from the 17th and 18th Centuries. From Aristotle to letters from Annie Besant, this 205-year-old treasure trove perched in the heart of Nungambakkam has acquired its out-of-the-way status in recent years. With a loyal membership of not more than 300 avid readers, the Madras Literary Society, tested by the challenges of time, boasts yellowing pages and dusty shelves that hold books far older than most of its regular visitors. Set up in 1812 and moved to its current red-bricked Rajasthani inspired building in 1906, the society was initially created for educational and military purposes of the British colonist as a mausoleum of English, French, Dutch, Latin and Portuguese books.

    A team of four manages the society which stands tall with its gold emblem emblazoned on its multiple doors. R Vinayagam, the assistant librarian, shied away from the constant questions and admitted that he enjoys his occasional PG Wodehouse and Sherlock Holmes as he rifles through the catalogues. When asked about any ghosts lurking in the midst of the murky and tall shelves, librarian Uma Maheshwari laughed saying, “We have thousands of protectors against ghosts”, referring to the books. The staff entertain a smattering of visitors on a daily basis which mostly consists of researchers, retired personnel and housewives, looking for ancient volumes as they climb up the cobwebbed iron ladders.

    Apart from the various 18th to 19th Century books, the collection constantly continues to expand thanks to the 800-900 donations they received along with some books that the Society itself has purchased in the last two years.

    In 2006 and 2007, the Society underwent renovation which saw sections of the library being closed off for the general public, which eventually led to a decline in its 790-strong family cutting membership by nearly half.S Muthiah, one of the oldest members of the society, nostalgically recalled, “It used to be a wonderful library, but it’s a bit run-down now.” But this only pushed the Society to innovate various ways to encourage new members to join the library and rebuild. During The Hindu Lit Fest, the Society introduced the concept of ‘Book Adoption’ which spurred people to pay for the preservation of depreciating copies of books such as Isaac Newton’s Latin volume from 1726. “They have been making gallant efforts to restore books and public support is needed for that. Individual restoration has been initiated for rare books and quite a few have been restored,” Muthiah said.

    With valiant efforts such as these, Madras Literary Society is taking strides to guard its long and rich legacy.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Society> History & Culture / by Divya Murthy & Fiza Anand / July 05th, 2017

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