An afternoon at Connemara library

Yesterday’s papers carried the news of the restoration to former glory, of the Connemara Public Library.
So, a colleague and I decided we’d check it out and see for ourselves how good the restoration was.
So, skipping lunch and my daily coffee at Saravana Bhavan, the two of us went to the Museum complex on Pantheon Road, which’s where the library is.

But first, a little history. The ever trustful Wikipedia says:

The Library’s beginnings go back to 1861, when hundreds of books were found surplus in the libraries of Haileybury College (where Indian Civilians were trained in England). These books were sent to the Madras Government, which in turn handed them over to the Madras Museum. Conceived on the lines of the British Museum Library, it was part of the Madras Museum till 1890, when the need for ‘a free public library’ prompted the then Governor of Madras, Lord Connemara, to lay the foundation on 22nd March, 1890.

The library was as part of a cultural complex that grew in the grounds of what was once called ‘The Pantheon’. The entire complex now boasts buildings that reflect architectural unity, even while demonstrating the various stages of Indo-Saracenic development, from Gothic-Byzantine to Rajput Mughal and Southern Hindu Deccani.

Back to the present, now.

The colleague and I reached the Pantheon complex, and headed out in search of the new-improved Old Buildings. On first look, the renovation is mighty impressive. On first look.

The smell of varnish hits your nostrils, the wooden doors and pillars and balustrades gleam in the mid-morning sun. You walk in, as workers carry out rotting planks of wood, while others bring in the red carpet. For a moment you are deluded into thinking the management finally begins to practice “The customer is king”. But you realise the red-carpet and the flower garlands and the kolam are for the minister who’s slated to unveil the restored library.

You walk in, and look around. The ceiling looks as good, almost, as the day it must have been built. Closer inspection though, shows you chipped plaster work, missing details. But above all, the new paint job on the walls are a travesty of the original. The restoration to former glory begins to sour. As I walk further into the reading hall, it gets worse. The shelves – once grand and beautiful, are now covered in dust and a thin veneer of green. These haven’t seen the carpenter’s tools in about 100 years. Other shelves have had their wooden slats replaced with ‘government prescribed’ aluminium. A sad marriage of the old and the new.

To cut a long, sad story short – the restoration is neither complete, nor truthful. To me, it appears as just a temporary facelift. I hope to be proved wrong.

Coming out of the library, my friend and I decided to go to the Bronze Gallery in the same complex. While the building housing it isn’t as impressive as the hall, the contents are truly special. But that is a post for another day.

3 Comments so far

  1. Navneeth (unregistered) on November 22nd, 2006 @ 11:39 pm

    That’s terrible to hear. The photos trick our eyes, don’t they? I especially hate to listen to stories of “restoration” that happen in our neck of the woods.

  2. Ravages (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    True, Navneeth. What is scary is, the restoration is done by the Archaeological Survey, who, supposedly, know about these things.

  3. Lakshmy (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    Buildings are like babies. They need constant attention. Restoration would not have been necessary if only we had taken adequate care of our buildings from day 1. No matter the quality of work, hope we atleast take care of this restored library!

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