At 7 am, watchman Hanumanthu opens a small gate to the side of the main entrance of the City Central Library at Chikadpally in Hyderabad. The notice board hung nearby says the library is open from 8 am to 8 pm but Hanumanthu leaves it half open, saying, “Bachche padhne aate hain (Children come to study).” Every day, students preparing for public service exams, bank probationary tests and entrance exams come to the library, in the heart of Hyderabad, to study — not inside but on the half-acre ground outside. It’s here, under the shade of neem, banyans and coconut trees that hundreds of dreams and aspirations of students from different corners of Telangana take shape.
A little past 7 am, D Nagarjuna enters through the side gate, holding up a folded chair in one hand and books in the other. “I like coming before the others so that I can get the best spot. I like sitting under that big banyan tree,” he says, “I have another chair locked up near the tree. This one is spare… I bring it just in case the area under the banyan tree is crowded by the time I come,’’ he says.
From Hanamkonda near Warangal, the 25-year-old is preparing for Group-II exams of the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC). “I completed my MA last year and came to Hyderabad last August. I live in a hostel nearby and go for Group-II classes at Himayatnagar. I share my room with two others from my town. But it is not possible to study there because someone or the other keeps talking and disturbing. Here, it is quiet and peaceful. People even keep their mobile phones on silent mode. I study from 7 am to 10 am, then go to my classes and return at 4 pm, after which I stay here till 10 — until the guard tells us to leave,’’ Nagarjuna says.
As he unlocks his chair, chained to one of the large prop roots of the banyan tree, around 15 students, who had stopped for tea and biscuits at a stall opposite the library, walk in. They exchange nods and a few swift handshakes with Nagarjuna and head straight to their chairs.
Outside, the cacophony of vehicles on the Himayatnagar main road and the nearby Ashok Nagar locality is steadily building up; inside the sprawling library ground, the stillness of the early hours is interrupted only by the shrill chirping of birds.
More people walk in, stretch out their chairs and sit down with their books. The girls prefer a small strip adjoining the library building which is shady until afternoon.
Y Keerthi, who is preparing for her Group-II exams, says she lives in a hostel in the city. “I share a room with three other girls. But they make too much noise and are constantly talking on their mobile phones. There are very few girls here,” she says and then adds, looking around, “In fact, it seems I am the only one on this side of the building today. Good. Girls tend to talk too much.” The 25-year-old is from Siddipet district in Telangana.
By the time the library doors open at 8 am, the empty spaces on the ground are almost all taken. Secretary and librarian P Neeraja walks in. She makes a quick round of the ground, greeting people with a nod and a smile, and walks into the library.
Until 2011, the grounds of the Zilla Grandalaya library, established in 1961, had a green lawn, a garden and several old trees. Though the trees are still around, the ground is now dry and shorn of grass. “The lawn was anyway difficult to maintain in the summer months. And once people started putting chairs and walking all over, the lawn dried up completely,” says Neeraja.
The library has a reading hall with a capacity of 500, with separate sections for men and women. It has a newspaper section, which is open even on public holidays. The library gets about 60 newspapers and 200 magazines in eight languages, and has over 2.5 lakh books. A few of the students outside periodically walk in to look for books or to browse the Internet — the library offers Internet services for Rs 5 for an hour.
“I prefer sitting outside because I like the outdoors and do not want to sit in a room all day,” says Lal Naik, 26, who did his MA last year and is preparing for his Group-II exams.
It was around 2011, says Neeraja, that the trend of people sitting outside to study began. “That year, when some youngsters did not find space in the hall, they brought their chairs and sat under the trees to study. That became a practice and more people followed. We do not mind students sitting outside as long as they are studying and not doing any mischief. In fact, the premises fill up even before the library opens,’’ says Neeraja.
By 9 am, though there are about 300 people in the ground, there is hardly any noise. Every once in a while, people use gestures to communicate with each other or to indicate that they have sent messages on WhatApp – to ask for a book or to seek help.
At 10.30 am, Nyalam Madhusudhan, 25, a BTech graduate from Jangaon district in Telangana, walks in. He goes straight to his friend Srinath, who is sitting under the banyan tree and bends down to whisper into his ears. Madhusudhan, who is preparing for his UPSC Engineering Services Examination, has misplaced his book and Srinath lends him his.
Madhusudhan, now visibly relieved, whispers, “There isn’t any book you won’t find here — from Group-II and Group-III exam guides to model papers for bank exams, NET and CAT.”
At 1 pm, some of the students get up, stretch and head to a food kiosk inside the library campus. Run by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, the kiosk serves lunch for Rs 5.
Madhusudan too walks up to the kiosk for sambar-rice. He says he shares a flat with four others in Chikadpally locality of Hyderabad. “I cannot concentrate there. Here, it is peaceful, only those who are serious about their studies come. It does get a little hot here, in summers, but a lot of us don’t mind the heat as long as we can study in peace,’’ he says, in between spoonfuls of rice.