Leprosy Sanatorium Library- Nooranad, Kerala

All Photos of the library by: Gokulraj R.

Author: Gokulraj R.

This may sound like it  is coming straight from the pages of fiction. Pardon me; that’s the side effect of reading too much literature.

Here’s the story of my book house.

About 60 years ago,  the Government of Kerala , India, constructed a 2-storyed building to collect and maintain books for patients suffering from leprosy.  The library was within the isolated 200 acre leprosy sanatorium campus in Nooranad. The enlighted and sympathetic members of society donated from their collections of literature to the sanatorium.The communist Govt. of Kerala  had tie ups with what was then Soviet Russia, and  this helped to import a huge collection of Russian literature, free of cost. Books also came from other parts of the world. Thus, books  provided the inmates of the sanatorium with a way to bury their anguish, something to help forget the pain of their existence.

Gradually,  the world outside too began to show interest in the pile of books amassed in the building (there were no televisions and few cinemas at that time in Nooranad). The doctors and other officials supported the trend. and spread  awareness about the disease. The visitors were given assurances that with reasonable precautions, they would not be turned into limbless zombies. The process of organising and categorising books that was on a sluggish pace  because the inmates were toiling with their bug-eaten fingers and limbs, caught wind as the public intervened. The end result was that they managed to develop that pile of books into a well structured library.

 Students and academicians of nearby colleges started visitng the library frequently. Writers came by to access reference material. The inmates were able to build rapport with people from all corners of the society. At a time when there was severe social stigma around the dreadful disease and the patients, books became a bridge between minds. Literature became a means to surpass the boundaries and phobias residing in the collective consciousness of a society.
Many a decade have passed since then. The number of inmates in the sanatorium decreased drastically – thankfully – from thousands to a mere 250. Due to the advances in modern medicine and pharmacology, many of the patients have survived and are cured from the disease. So many of them have left the sanatorium.
 A decade ago, when I went there to obtain a membership, the building was full of devastated souls. Patients were  in wheelchairs and crutches but each of them had a book in his/her hand. Their eyes, were either buried in those pages or they seemed to be fixed in distant places, maybe imaginary places created by writers. I couldn’t find any hint of agony in their eyes. Books were like drugs to them. I found true addiction to literature at that place. But now, no one cares about the library. The recent inmates  spend their time in front of idiot boxes and mobile phones. The long term patients are too old to read a book or even to hold one in their hands.
 Every day the librarian ( a 65-year old leprosy survivor) opens the building, tidies up everything, sits on his chair; waiting for bibliophiles to come in but,  I know- few live in these parts. This place doesn’t even seem to exist in the minds of the outside world.
  I visit there frequently. If I’m not working,  I spend the entire day in the building, scrolling through the dailies and numerous magazines in the regional language; and browsing the huge collection of books accumulated  through the ages. Every day, a large collection of latest books are still waiting for me, I know.
 The librarian likes my company although eons separates us. His deep-set eyes have seen many a thing in life. Observing him moving tbrough the corriders with the help of walking aids (the dreadful disease had taken one of his legs), I think of Jorge Luis Borges, the blind librarian. He treats every book with utmost care,  as if  they are his children. He is concerned about the current state of the bookhouse. Once he told me that “this is an orphanage of thirty thousand books.” That struck deep in my mind. Of course, at his age he ought to be more concerned about the price of his pills and his pension money, rather than the intellectual decline of a society. He talks to me about his ideas to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities and the public – nothing that will work in modern times.
Guys, now that I have shared my concerns and the challenges the library faces, what are your suggestions on the matter? What do you think about the situation, altogether ? Is some kind of leprosy coming back to haunt the library? Or is it in fact affecting our minds?
Is there any need to resurrect that “book house-in-jeopardy” in an era of silicon libraries?

“I used to think of heaven as a kind of library” Jorge Luis Borges          Daniela Goulart CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By librariesilove Posted in India

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