Abijit Vivek, Akshay MV, Anandini Swaminathan, Aniruddha Das, Anoop Selvin, Anuj Arora, Bhavita B, Gowri Varanashi, Jayalakshmi, Jody MacDonald, Kali Sayak Mukherjee, Kirthana Devdas, Madhumita Nandi, Manish Dhumale
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They say that the thing about ‘what ifs’; is that they don’t matter and that they don’t change anything. Yet, they are one of the most powerful weapons of the curious mind. Some of the greatest movements and the worst wars can be traced back to this question. And many personal endeavours too.
Books have been the answers to questions in ways conversations can never be. If you allow it, a book can take you to unseen places, into the minds of incredible people and tell you stories that move your soul.
But they have always been a luxury of the elite.
Of the ‘educated’ mind that can read and write.
Dal Lake in Srinagar dictates a lot of the city’s life and movement. It’s a jewel in the midst of the hopes and despairs of the urban Srinagar.

Dal Lake Library Untold
In a rather dark room hugging the sides of this beautiful lake, a book exchange called “The Travellers’ Library” run by Mohammad Latif Oata, proves that the thirst for stories is beyond the limitations of education.
The Travellers Library is quite simply, a book exchange heaven. Like the ones you might have spent some time over a cuppa at hostels or at restaurants flocked with travellers. But Oata’s collection is one of its kind in the vicinity of the Dal Lake. And going by his story, it could very well be one of its kind anywhere.

Dal Lake Library Untold

“I have over 600 books in my collection here. Written by authors from across the world in many languages.”
Which ones do you like the most?
“All of them. Each of them have two stories. One, what the book is about and the other of the person who exchanged it. You can take a book if you want to, but you’ll have to drop two of your own in exchange. I know all of the books here by the back of my hand. After all, they are my most precious possessions.”
Can I trade any two books for any of the ones you have?
“Yes. But under one condition”
Which is?
“You’ll have to sit with me and tell me the stories in the books you’re dropping  off.”
Really? Why?
“Because I don’t know how to read (or write). I’m what the society might call ‘illiterate.’”

Dal Lake Library Untold

                                                                     ____________________________

 

“I thought to myself, What if I could read the stories in the books without knowing how to read? The idea of a library started in Gokarna, after I was gifted Gita Mehta’s book with a Lotus as it’s cover. I asked the person who gave it me, to describe the story and that changed my life. I have never looked back since.”

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“This notice board is 25 years old. An English woman wrote this for me in exchange of a book from my library.”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“I’ve struggled to keep this collection safe. From people, from conservative religious views, from floods and God knows what… I lost a lot of good German literature to the floods last year.”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“How do you say it? Yes, hunger. That’s the word I’m looking for. It’s the hunger for not knowing how to read or write that drove me to books. It’s the hunger for stories that made me obsess over the printed paper that I don’t understand. Whenever I’m tensed, I  come to the library, scroll through all the books and remember the people who gave them to me and the stories they described. It’s my favourite place in the world.”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“This is one of the first prints of Ian Fleming’s hardbound edition of Goldfinger. What a story eh?”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“Personally, Pablo Cohelo’s Eleven Minutes literally changed my life. I remember, this beautiful girl, Claudia gave me that book. The story of my relationship with her is almost parallel to the book she read to me. You know what I’m saying right? I’ve met, made friends and some, more than just ‘friends’ from around the world because of this travelling, travellers’ library. French have the best authors by the way! The stories people have read to me from these books… Beautiful! Beautiful! You can find Spanish and Hebrew books here too.”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“Look at this publisher, these guys always publish great stories! People ask me how I differentiate between English and German. Do you know how? German language has two dots on top of the letters ‘u’ and ‘o.’ I guess..”

Dal Lake Library Untold

“I don’t know the names of the authors. I know the covers of their books. I know the stories in their books. But trust me, you will not be able to cheat me by giving me bad books. I know the publishing house symbols that publish good and bad stories. I might not know the name of the authors, but I know the names of the people who read the stories in these books to me. Their names matter more in my life.”

Dal Lake Library Untold
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“This library with the books and memories that come with it, is the treasure I’m building for my children. To remind them about the world they can explore with the power of alphabets. All these books, not only remind me of what I have lost in my life but also of what I have gained and what I’m grateful for.”

Dal Lake Library Untold

                                                                     ____________________________
As the sound of the rain rebounds on the shelves of the library, Oata reminds us that there’s nothing special about his skill. And that he is only emulating how our ancestors communicated using symbols. “We humans haven’t done anything original in a long time!” he adds in a stern tone.

His 600 books, seem more of a collection of his life stories and the people he has met along the way. I can’t help but to see that his passion for books is really the passion for people and their stories. Driven by turning bound pages into flesh and heart.

For some, the world is full of limitations. And for some, like Latif Oata, the world is full of possibilities. It is filled with 7 billion stories.

 

“A man can do whatever he puts his mind to. Sometimes, I get startled as to how I can run a library without knowing how to read, but I’ve shown that it is possible by asking myself, ‘what if…” – The Unlikely Librarian

Dal Lake Library Untold

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