Millennium Post

These books are for the Rashtrapati

Books, Books and more books – over 15,000 of them stacked in wooden and steel almirahs, has been gathering dust and grime due to disuse and neglect for over 20 years in one of the corners of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the magnificent presidential house. But all that is set to change.

President Pranab Mukherjee, who assumed charge as the 13th constitutional head on 25 July, is known to be a bibliophile who reads till late in the night. Now the ‘dreary’ library, which faces the Rashtrapati Bavan forecourt and provides a grand view of both the south and north blocks, as well as of Raisina Hill and the magnificent boulevard stretching three kilometres to the India Gate martyrs’ memorial, is all set for a facelift.

‘The president is very fond of books and loves to read. He wants to visit the library and spend sometime here,’ Venu Rajamony, the president’s press secretary, said.

The original library, which started functioning in 1950, had a huge wooden desk at the center, with beautiful paintings adorning its walls. A window on top allowed sunlight inside the room, making the marble floor glisten. Right now, the window is covered with a cloth.

There are over 15,000 books in the library – some of them from the time the British Viceroy lived in this 340-room red standstone mansion. With cupboards filling up the room and books everywhere, it now looks more like a college library than a library of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

As books are gifted to the president, the library over the years got crammed with them, making the authorities opt for wooden almirahs to house them. Soon, these were not enough and steel almirahs were added, and began to line up the corridor. But these too filled up.

Seeing the state of the library, President Mukherjee expressed his wish to restore it to its original pristine glory of the 1950 era.

The librarian now has a huge task ahead.

To begin with, old photographs were unearthed to see how the original library looked. Now, the effort is to replicate the original one.

The steel almirahs have already been removed from the corridor, while the wooden ones will be moved out once the books are sorted, documented and stacked properly.

At the moment, piles of books are lying everywhere. ‘Our aim is simple – first we will clean up the space, assess the books and then decide how best to utilise the library. We haven’t decided yet, but we could invite scholars and individuals to the library after it’s brought back to its original 1950 look,’ Rajamony said.

‘Right now, we are clearing the furniture. Documenting the books, separating the historical books. We plan to keep only those that are historically relevant,’ he added. [IANS]
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