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Boys’ Own Library Mani Mandir
Chaitanya Library - Captivating Calcutta
1909    Dibyendu Banerjee    10/10/2019

Located at 4/1 Beadon Street, subsequently renamed Dani Ghosh Sarani, Chaitanya Library owes its origin to Gaur Hari Sen and his friend Kunj Behari Dutta. Gaur Hari persuaded Ganganarayan Dutta, an affluent person in the locality and grandfather of Kunja Behari, to donate some money and a large room on the ground floor of his house to set up a library.

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As he agreed, the friends collected a few English and Bengali books, managed to arrange a cupboard and a donation of thirty Rupees form Noni Mohan Banerjee. With these assets, Chaitanya Library was inaugurated on the 5 th of February 1889, on the auspicious occasion of Sri Panchami or Saraswati Puja and started its operation at 83, Beadon Street with two periodicals, Bangabasi and Sanjibani and the daily, Indian Mirror. The subscription rates for the ordinary members was decided to be two annas a month, while the life members were to pay Rupees ten only.

Chaitanya Library

Within a short time, Chaitanya Library became popular in the locality and towards the end of 1893, it shifted to a two-storey building at 4/1 Beadon Street, on a monthly rent of 200 Rupees. The ground floor housed a free reading room and a lecture-cum-meeting place.

Standing next to the iconic Minerva Theatre, Chaitanya Library had its golden days, when the debates were arranged every week and eminent persons like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Nabinchandra Sen, Rabindranath Tagore, CV Raman and Sister Nivedita used to visit the place.

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However, the days have changed and with the passing of time, the reading habit of the common people has also changed drastically over the years. With the advancement of electronic media and digitalization, footfall in the library has decreased alarmingly. While the young generation does not have the time or intention or attraction to go through books out of their curriculum, the adult mostly prefers the television shows over the books. Today, those who visit the library are mainly researchers, who look for rare references for their projects. Apart from that, the place stays empty most of the time, which is the clear indication that the library is heading towards a slow and sure death.

Chaitanya Library

The topmost floor of the Chaitanya library has a rare collection of books and bundles of them are lying on the floor, wrapped under dust and cobweb, since untouched for years together. Damaged by the rain water from the leaking ceiling, they lay on the ground in neglected heaps. The library has approximately 150,000 books and 30,000 periodicals. As the maintenance cost of these books is huge, it was planned to make it an education library and digitalize the whole thing. However, nothing was done for want of sufficient fund. After several requests, a government grant of 300,000 was sanctioned, which the library gets at an interval of 2 or 3 years and that hardly helps in the restoration of the books.

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According to an official of the library, it can only be saved, if it is turned into an information centre, complete with the installation of computer system for keeping track of the books. Apart from that, the opening of a café in the courtyard may be an added attraction, which many readers may possibly like. However, the proposal was bluntly refused by the government official on security ground and theft of books.

Chaitanya Library
Boys’ Own Library Mani Mandir
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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