I climbed up the staircase. On my way up, I saw a lovely set of yellow lampshades decorating the white wall on my left. A beautiful lady dressed in hues of kumkum red, holding an instrument in her hand, adorned with traditional jewellery lent the lampshade an ethnic tinge. There was something about the decor that made me like the place at once.
As I climbed further, I reached a corridor. I turned left and found the glass door that opened into the world where I believe I belonged. I pushed the door and entered. Wooden cabinets with glass doors were lined in a row. One glimpse at what they housed was enough to tell me that the next hour was going to be spent there.
If you are wondering what I am talking about, then I shall not make you wait any longer. A treasure trove lies deep inside this wonderful place called DakshinaChitra in Chennai. Apart from the handicrafts, houses, galleries and craft shops, there is a library. A library that I fondly call a treasure trove.
As I walked past the wooden cabinets, the little letters of bold serif fonts printed on white a4 sheets glued to the sides told me that this library has every kind of book on the arts.
If you are looking to design a house with typical Indian prints and fabrics, you have home decor books dedicated to it.
For a student and lover of music, you have a variety of books on the different forms of music in India. Look closely and you will find books on certain artists and the music of bygone eras.
But art is what steals the show. With a whole cabinet dedicated to it [which I agree is less too – though I am sure they are expanding by the minute], there are fat and thin collections on the large variety of art you find in the world. Ranging from Thai Art to Tanjore Paintings, you have just about everything. But to learn the nuances of it, you’ll have to flip the pages of these books. They are said to widen perspectives and serve as potfuls of inspiration!
I was interested in two sections. One was dedicated to textiles and the other to architecture. Born and brought up with a love for experimenting with clothes and fabrics? Then this is the section that calls out to you in the otherwise silent room. I pulled out a couple of books and read them for the short while that I was there. One was on Kalamkari fabrics of Masulipatnam by Dr. A. Venkateswara Rao. It had details on the history, the uses of the fabric and the art of making it.
The other book was The Sari – Styles, Patterns, History and Techniques by Linda Lynton. The bright colours of skillfully taken photographs catches your eye the minute you open the book. You don’t just feel like reading further, you feel like becoming a shopaholic. What is wonderful is to see how much research has been done in understanding the story that lies behind those hand-woven pieces. The technique, the patterns, the designs and most importantly, the stark difference that marks them apart is wonderful. A tour into the book – I call it a tour for you go from region to region – will reveal how tribes and communities demarcate their different styles in making saris. A sari isn’t merely a piece of cloth you adorn yourself with. It communicates and epitomises religion, culture, people, societies and livelihoods.
The section on history and architecture was fascinating. From complete shelves dedicated to Islamic architecture to Hindu temple architecture, these wooden cabinets were nothing less than paradise. The secret behind the skilled workmanship of Pallava architecture lies in one of the many volumes on these shelves. There is yet another book on the paintings found in the Ajanta caves. Simply astounding.
For those who are in love with the past of what is Chennai today, there is a section on town planning and villages. Travel and tourism has a shelf to itself. Jewellery and handicrafts have their own cosy corner. Magazines and journals are also part of this collection of 15,000 books. Might I add, that when you are welcomed with an explosion of art and history, you are much too engrossed in flipping pages that you forget to pay closer attention to other categories.
While the collection focuses on these categories, there might be books on certain other topics that I may have missed. Do take a look when you visit the place. The elegant interiors and ethnic decors are addictive and create the perfect ambiance for you to read.
Hide yourself in the shadows of these tall wooden cupboards, pull out a book, start reading and I promise, you will lose track of time!
NOTE: The library does not lend books. It is for reference only.