Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The flight of the library

As a kid I borrowed books, mainly Hardy Boys, The Secret Seven, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, from Flamingo Library located in the foyer of Hotel Sona in Panjim, the capital of the popular tourist state of Goa, then a union territory. 

Later, when we shifted back to Bombay (now Mumbai), where I was born, I read all kinds of novels and comics from Abbas Circulating Library, a landmark at King’s Circle. This was in my teens. One particular title I read is still stuck in my head. It was called The Importance of Peter Harley. I remember the cover vividly. I have no idea who wrote it or what it was about. Some books do that to you.

Not long after I took up my first newspaper job, at nineteen, I joined the American Centre and British Council libraries because I suspect most new journos did. The collection of books at BC was considered superior to the one at USIS. Both libraries have since moved north, from their traditional bastions in South Mumbai.

With private circulating libraries almost extinct and the American and British libraries more or less out of reach, I have resorted to borrowing books from footpath vendors, scrap dealers, old papermarts and the internet. Of course, there are still the old institutional libraries south of the island city, like the Asiatic, David Sassoon, and J.N. Petit, but for some reason I have never thought of becoming a member.

Now, I’m a life member of the global ebook fraternity and I borrow hundreds of books, download actually, from dozens of libraries in the public domain. But I miss the good old circulating library of my school days, when I borrowed just one book, read it over a couple of days, and then went back for another. In those days I felt like I read a book, and never before smelling the pages.


  1. THE TRUTH ABOUT PETER HARLEY is an espionage novel by James Mills, best known in the US for his conspiracy-police novel REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER. I'll bet this is the one you're thinking of.

    1. Todd, you nailed it! Yes, that's the one. I just saw the cover, the one with the Harley character in glasses. I remembered the title wrongly, and which is why I haven't been able to trace it all these years. I have not read James Mills though I'm familiar with the author's name. Thanks a ton for taking the trouble to find out and letting me know.

    2. Glad to be of service, Prashant...and the book sounded interesting enough for me to order an inexpensive copy, from the jacket of which I discover that mills had another novel at least as famous as REPORT, in his THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK--both notably filmed, PARK moreso.