Recently I visited the American Centre Library. Sorry, center, since the American spell it that way. It used to be an open place when I was in college, and most importantly, it used to be free. I read a lot of books then: novels, critiques, poems, etc. which got me firmly rooted in literature in those days. I read a lot about America in those days, thinking that if I am going there (those days America meant the Yoonited States), I better know a lot about it. Oh, poor me, I thought things were so easy in those naïve days. Ignorant me.
Now that I am working close to this library I walked in today to take a membership all over again and, surprise, was told it wasn’t free anymore. It had become some kind of a fortress, no, Alcatraz, is more like it. I am stopped at the gate by a woman behind a door of two-inch thick steel, who looks at me suspiciously (could I be looking like a terrorist in my office clothes and general look of distraction? I would be a sloppy terrorist, in that case.). Jokes aside, I am frisked, racially profiled, x-rayed, mobile-phone-deprived, watched by close-circuit television, by a host of uniformed beefcake security men and their equally endowed security women. Uniforms and security men are everywhere. Ironically, wonder how, despite all this security, terrorists barged into the US embassy in Iran in the world’s longest running hostage crisis where 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. But, so, sorry, they have their reasons and I shouldn’t short-circuit the system. So I go along.
Now I walk into the library, and see that a lot of things have changed since I visited the library last. Not only is it not free, but gone are the regulars, the bearded old men who snoozed on the newspapers, the copywriters who copied ideas from the magazines to replicate them in their ads, the shelves and shelves of books, the cute looking Parsee librarian in platform heels, with the hairdo like Diana Palmer. Oh, how I miss her cool efficiency that would make me go weak in the knee! Where is she? Is she dead? I saw her in Colaba a few years ago, but didn’t have the guts to talk to her.
And I receive a very warm welcome when I decide to pay the membership fee. There are hardly anyone around, and I must be one of their few valued customers, help pay the bills, eh? There were gangs of students in those days reading the magazines, referring the books, and listening to the video recordings of interviews of President Jimmy Carter, who had just become president. Seeing a video recording was a big thing then and I had to wait a few hours to get my turn, which the Parsee librarian in platform heels so efficiently and so kindly arranged.
That was around thirty years ago, before I graduated. Thirty years! Oh God! Thirty years just flew by in a jiffy. I was a shy and retiring youth of around 20 years then and now I am fifty, sporting grey hair, a bald patch and a paunch and, sad to say, I never made it to the Yoonited States, my dream country, the land of the free, not even once! I hope my son does!