1. A staff member with a penetrating gaze and readers in the main reading room.2. Another staff member and readers in the newspaper section. 3. A reader with an iconic Vithaldas Mewawala bag, bent over a newspaper. To his right, a marble tablet with the names of the subscribers to the Bombay Native General Library book fund of 1863. 4. (L-R) Poet and cultural theorist, Ranjit Hoskote, and author and trustee of the Library, Jerry Pinto, examine a rare book.5. As she has always done. 6. A bearded, smiling bust of Ardaseer Framjee Moos (1827-1895) commissioned by ‘His Friends, Admirers and Members of The Bombay Native General Library’. 7. A bust of Nowrozjie Furdoonjei (1817-1885), ‘A Tribute of Respect and Admiration for His Lifelong Efforts in Promoting the Cause of the Social and Political Advancement of His Countrymen’, between student readers. 8. A bust of John Harkness, Principal Elphinstone College, commissioned by ‘His Pupils, Assisted by the Leading Members of Native Community’, stands with its sideburns and nose dismembered.9. The marble top writing tables at the Library are mementos in memory of F. B. Khan. The monogram however reads MFK and we wonder if it stands for Memory of F. Khan.
Interiors: The People’s Free Reading Room and Library
Framjee Cowasjee Institute, oppoiste Kyani & Co., Dhobi Talao.
Everywhere in the People’s Free Reading Room and Library we are reminded of Bombay’s vibrant commemorative culture. Busts of local worthies, marble table tops and tablets, inscriptions on cupboards, all remind us that along with the famed philanthropical gifts of the city’s merchant princes, there were also more egalitarian and inclusive forms of gifting, in which an array of citizens could pool in their resources and commemorate a public figure.
Indeed it is this commemorative culture that makes the library a place by the ‘people’ and for the ‘people’.
Photos by Hashim Badani.