“I have a dream for you,” Yoshiue-san wrote to me this morning. I had returned home in the wee hours after a late night cookie party at my seniors’ place. Yoshiue-san’s message was the first one I read during my morning ritual of checking social media. He announced that he shall be leaving the university library by the end of March and join another as an associate professor. The sudden announcement and especially during the weekend somewhat saddened me.
I always loved librarians and the temples they nurture. I always needed a library but never had an access to a wide variety of them. My desktop used to be filled with shutterstock images from the Congress Library in Washington, Trinity College Library in Dublin and the Clementinum National Library in Prague. My school librarian was one of my best friends and I always ran to her during sports periods because I never enjoyed sweating and gasping for my breath. Learning the classification system and helping organise the library soon became my past-time. I started making lists of books that I wanted in the library and had my eyes hooked to my favourite cupboard which housed the classics. On the opposite wall, Radhakrishnan and Ambedkar seemed to smile at me.
Yet, Yoshiue-san made a special place in my heart.
It was only in the first few weeks after I entered the university back in October 2015 that I started spending a lot of time in the library. Using computers to find a book amongst over 4 million that were stored in the 5 campuses of the university was overwhelming. After all, I was used to cards and ball-point pens. On one such day, I saw a man, somewhere around the age of 40 walking towards me. Wearing a plain white shirt and hands folded in Namaste, he asked me if I was Indian. I replied in the affirmative. This was followed by a moment of wow accompanying sounds expressing his ardour which I was still getting used to whenever I met a Japanese. He was quick enough to bring out a picture of an old man with greyish-white hair wearing glasses from the 50s or the 60s. The man looked Indian. “Do you know him?,” Yoshiue-san asked me. I remembered him from my conversations with my school librarian. “Oh yes! Dr. Ranganathan! The father of library science in India,” I identified. At that moment, he was taken aback. He was not expecting me to identify Dr. Ranganathan. “You are the first one,” he said and handed me a little white booklet which he wrote about him.
What are the odds that I travel 5,000 miles crossing seas and rivers and Shanghai sparkling below me like a moonlit bride to meet a man holding a different passport show so much love for Dr. Ranganathan? All his life he spent researching on this one man’s vision of library which has enlightened so many and yet so few. He spent some of his time as a student in Baroda and had also found his way to the then-famous Maharaja Club in Tokyo’s upscale Roppongi area. If you talk to him, he has so many stories to share while he sits at the reference desk in the university’s main library, binding us all through his strings of reminiscence.
It was just last year that he became excited over a mail that he received from IIT Madras. “They have invited me to give a talk,” his face blushed as he spoke. After all, apart from Chennai, he would get a chance to visit Sirkazhi where his hero Dr. Ranganathan was born. “You must definitely go,” I encouraged him. “I should ask my wife,” he laughed. For the next few months, our discussions surrounded around spices and curries and he showed me Dr. Ranganathan’s books which he bought back in India where he has marked the key words and translated them into Japanese. I could imagine Dr. Ranganathan smiling and the gleam in his eyes reflecting from his glasses. It is rare to find such romances.
At times, he used to thank me for a box of white tea that I got for his wife during one of my visits to Delhi. It is rare even for us Indians to have knowledge about the white tea. Sometimes he used to wear his favourite kurta which he bought at the Delhi airport and paired it with his dupatta. Once, I helped him in getting some pictures from the Asiatic Society in Mumbai and he sent me the paper where he published the pictures with credits given to me. His elation was evident. He was always surrounded by his Japanese colleagues who learnt their India from him.
After my September 2016 trip to India, I met him in the library. “You got to meet Amitabh Bachchan!,” he shrieked after he saw my pictures on Facebook. These are the moments when I wear my cloak of modesty and try not to run away out of embarrassment. He almost pulled my hand and took me to the bulletin board near the library’s reference desk. There was an A4-size print out of my picture with the Big B holding a copy of ‘The Sentinel’. He looked at it with a broad smile. I could see a sense of satisfaction and admiration for me in him. To almost every new Japanese person he met in the library, he told them about me and showed them the Amazon web link of my poetry book. I am very unreactive in such situations as I still do not know what to do when someone praises you. But, I always wanted to tell him ‘Thank You!’.
When he finally visited Chennai, he sent me his pictures with students at IIT Madras and pictures of the library. He sent me his paper which he presented there. The title read ‘Transformation of academic libraries through higher education reform in Japan: becoming realized what Dr. S. R. Ranganathan would want to see’. He always talks about active learning spaces and complained since the IIT Madras Central Library had no place for active learning or group work. 58.2% of university libraries in Japan have already incorporated active learning, he stated in his paper. When he returned, he looked happy. He enjoyed eating with hands during a traditional South Indian dinner and kept on revisiting the pictures from his talk. “They were laughing and enjoying it a lot,” he said to me. He also got to visit his spiritual home in Sirkazhi. I really wonder what did the locals think of him visiting this small town to find someone’s footprints who remains largely unknown amongst our generation.
I do not know how would I describe my relationship with him. I revere him as a mentor, colleague, friend and family. When he finally decided that the library should also have its own English newsletter, a first time at the university, he reached out to me and my team to lead the project. “How does the name ‘The Concierge’ sound?”, he asked me. I smiled and gave it a nod. The team of ‘International Concierge’ at the library which is responsible for helping foreign students in different languages on how to use the library is something he deeply associates with. He finds himself as its part even though there are not many who come to seek help at the desk. Yet, he smiles. That keeps the library alive each time I go.
I look back at the message again. He wants me to collect farewell messages for him from the colleagues at the library. He wants to be missed deeply and wishes to take a piece of memory home with him. In this world of real and solid objects, his little wish takes all our space in our hearts. I will miss Yoshiue-san in the fragrance of the books stocked in the basement. I will miss him in the threads of his kurta. I will miss him in the skies that keep both my homes across the seas connected. I will miss him whenever I talk about falling in love with India all over again.
As expressed by Trishit Banerjee. He was born and brought up in India and is currently a third-year undergraduate student of Advanced Molecular Chemistry at Tohoku University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Sentinel’.