Once Upon a Curfew

‘I want to open a library,’ she told her. Mrs Bala seemed as if she had been expecting something else.

‘Noble idea,’ Mrs Bala said, nodding. ‘But how do you mean? Like collect books and make them available for lending?’ Indu took a deep breath before answering, ‘No, I was thinking more in terms of having a space to read and study, you know? I want to make it more about the library, the space, rather than reading itself.’

Mrs Bala waited for Indu to go on, but Indu said nothing. ‘I don’t think I understand exactly what you mean,’ Mrs Bala then said, and Indu noticed more eyes on her.

She ignored everyone and said, ‘I wonder what it would be like if all the areas that we live in, like Civil Lines, where I am, had a library, and people actually used it. If there were a dedicated space to study, to read, a place where we may spend two hours training the mind, as part of a larger community, where everyone does the same. As a . . . as a focused effort, not a distracted whim.’

Mrs Bala nodded, ‘But what gave you the idea?’

‘I was thinking about having your own space, you know,’ Indu replied, watching from the corner of her eyes that Fawad and Rana were listening intently to her, which somehow gave her more confidence. ‘My sister and I used to share a room. Now she is married and it’s my room. I feel my thoughts go wider. I read more, because I am alone in that space, and I think more about what I read. I would like to create that space for others, but also make it one where they can come together to discuss and grow.’

‘But there are libraries,’ Mrs Bala said. ‘There are public libraries, and college libraries for students.’

‘But I’m talking about a local library, where women who stay at home could come. The public ones are too crowded, the college ones too academic.’

Indu paused for breath, and felt the room go quieter and listen more intently. ‘Women?’ Mrs Bala asked.

‘Yes. I want to set up a library, but just for girls.’

Mrs Bala took a swig from her glass of wine and spoke to her husband, ‘You see, Anil? People coming from affirmative spaces always want to enlarge that space.’ She turned to Indu and added, ‘He says there is no point of women-only spaces, that they create greater inequality.’

Indu wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say, but Fawad broke in, ‘I don’t know how exactly that would help the situation. A library for whom? The poor don’t have time to sit in libraries and train their minds.’

Some of the hurt of the instant rebuttal must have shown on her face as the girl across the table ‘hmmed’ in agreement.

‘You don’t have to listen to him,’ Rana said, lighting a cigarette. ‘He’s just a commie.’ Everybody laughed. Much to Indu’s chagrin, she didn’t understand what the laughter was aimed at.

‘I don’t know what to say to you, Indu,’ Mrs Bala said. ‘Of course, it’s an idea worth looking into; slightly unusual, but I’d hold on to it. I’ll of course be happy to help and advise in whichever way, but have you thought of the practical considerations? There are so many things—who would visit, and why would they visit? What do you offer them? How do you intend to explain the concept? Someone might consider just sitting on a chair for two hours a waste of time. And more importantly, where on earth would you find such a place?’

Indu stared at her and gulped before answering, her head still held high, ‘I have a place in mind. All I’d need you to do is spread the word in your network.’

Mrs Bala nodded thoughtfully. The girl across the table turned away and began speaking to the others beside her, not wanting to give Indu the courtesy of her attention. Fawad looked at her curiously; Rana took another drag of his cigarette and extended her a smile, which Indu did not return.