AT THE centre of the bustling Kala Ghoda junction stands a quaint library where Dr B R Ambedkar wrote the final draft of the Indian Constitution.
The buckets that have been lined up in its passages to catch the rainwater leaking from the roof and snaking wires from pedestal fans on wet floors, however, belies the historical significance of David Sassoon Library and Reading Room.
Undeterred by the heavy rains that have been pounding Mumbai, avid readers still line up to peer into its 70,000 odd books that are neatly stacked in wooden shelves that almost touch the roof.
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However, not many are aware that the library which has served the city for 150 years and will celebrate its Foundation Day in February next year is in dire need of restoration but does not have enough funds.
The library, constructed in 1870 and named after a Jewish banker who contributed for its construction, needs close to Rs 1 crore for restoration work.
The library, which manages to sustain itself through public donations and membership fee, however, does not have enough money to carry out the maintenance of the premises. Its troubles have been further compounded by the resignation of its President Vivekanand Ajgaonkar who served in the post for the past 25 years.
Ajgaonkar resigned after the managing committee of the library shot down his proposal to rope in the Kala Ghoda Association for raising money. The restoration plan, submitted by conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, would cost Rs 1 crore.
“The entire restoration cost was estimated to be more than Rs 1 crore and the Kala Ghoda Association was willing to pay Rs 31 lakh but the committee members voted against it,” said Kayomi Engineer, Administrative Director of Kala Ghoda Association and a committee member of the library.
The Gothic-styled Grade I heritage structure is in dire need of restoration. A proposal for installing a lift for senior citizens is also pending,
The last restoration was carried out at least 15 years ago, according to Kaushik Oza, Vice-President of the managing committee of the library.
“The Kala Ghoda Association was willing to donate the amount in lieu of a five-year bond where they could use the library space for the Kala Ghoda festival. This term was not agreeable to several committee members who voted against it in a special general body meeting,” said Oza.
The vote saw a rift within the committee as Ajgaonkar resigned, stating constant opposition to his proposals.
Oza, who has been associated with the library for at least 35 years, refused to comment on the committee politics but said, “Earlier, there was a feeling among the committee members that we are a family but things have changed now. Each member should keep the interests of the library in mind.”
The deteriorating conditions of the library has affected the readers as well.
“The roof needs to be fixed immediately and there should be proper ducting of the electrical wires which run in the open,” said 72-year-old Bharat Dhoria, a lifetime member since 1975 who has spent all his evenings in the library. According to the trustees, the number of people taking lifetime memberships is now declining. While a lifetime membership at the library costs Rs 25,000, an annual membership costs Rs 5,500, of which Rs1,500 is refundable. Patron membership, which allows spouses of members to use the library, is for Rs 30,000.
The library boasts of over 70,000 books, a small garden and a tranquil ambience in a city bustling with people.
Frequenting the library are readers from all parts of the city – some to prepare for their exams, some for the ambience and some out of habit.
Oza said that the shutting down of such an institution would do immense damage to Mumbai’s cultural standing.
“The committee is now writing to philanthropists and corporates to raise funds. We urge more and more people to come forward and contribute for the library,” Oza said.