People’s Athenaeum

An ode to Deoghar’s public and community libraries

Space reserved on the ground floor of the Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Library, in Deoghar, for girls and physically challenged members. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
30 September, 2023

Blessed are the towns and places that have public libraries. Especially small towns. Towns in mofussil areas, in the hinterland, where there are dreams and ambitions aplenty but limited resources. Where there are readers and a demand for books, but perhaps not the circumstances to procure those books. Public libraries—such as those I saw in Deoghar, in July this year—are probably among the best and most useful social concepts in such places.

The town of Deoghar is the headquarters of Jharkhand’s Deoghar district. It is one of the six districts of the Santhal Pargana division. The creation of the Santhal Pargana has its roots in the Santhal rebellion of 1855, when the Santhals, led by the brothers Sido and Kanhu Murmu, rose against the British East India Company and the zamindari system. Today, Deoghar is famous for the Baidyanath Dham Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, and the annual Shrawani Mela. I, however, will remember Deoghar most for its two public libraries.

My discovery of them was quite serendipitous. I was travelling by a toto, an electric rickshaw, from the Jhousagarhi area of Deoghar towards the Tower Chowk, a famous landmark named after a clock tower that tolls every hour. It follows an upbeat variation of the Westminster chimes—a melody fashioned after the tune of the chimes on the House of Parliament clock in London. There was a multi-storeyed building within a boundary wall on this route. It had the Hindi words, Nagar Pustakalaya—Town Library—painted on the portico in the Devanagari script.

The library was mostly occupied by students, from teenagers to those in their early to mid-twenties. The ground floor had mostly girls, while the first and second floors had only boys. The second floor was relatively empty. The terrace on the third floor was locked. I took a seat at a table on the second floor and began working on a translation.