The Perfect Librarian and “Cool” Lady: Remembering Saroj Krishnaswami
My colleague and the Venture Center Librarian, Saroj Krishnaswami, passed away on Friday, 14 December 2018. She had been ailing for some time with a weak heart and a bothersome lung. She passed away peacefully. She lived a long, good and proud life, and will leave us all with happy memories.
Saroj was the perfect librarian; she took great pride in her profession! In a day and age when we meet so many people who take up professions without a passion or love for their work, she stood out in her deep love and respect for her profession. She knew that libraries are important for any civilized society and that she was doing important work! She made sure that the library celebrated “Saraswati” (Goddess of Knowledge in the Indian tradition) both directly and indirectly — one of her first acquisitions was a painting of Saraswati done in Warli painting style. She promptly put up a picture of SR Ranganathan (Father of Library Science in India; His birthday is remembered as National Librarian Day in India; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._R._Ranganathan ). She followed his five(simple and elegant) laws of Library Science: 1) Books are for use.2) Every person his or her book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the reader. 5) The library is a growing organism.
Saroj read widely herself and made sure she knew every book in the collection in some measure. She often recommended sections and books to readers – a dying art in current times. Once in a while, she would politely admonish my colleagues who did not visit the library. She goaded people to read via her monthly “Must read” or “New additions” emails. Many of us will definitely remember this because she made it such attractive reading for all of us with a brief summary, a link to a recent book review from a reputable source and then some related cartoons and limericks. I always enjoyed these emails enormously!
Times are changing and the role of libraries is also changing very rapidly. The Internet has made information easily accessible online and so libraries are not anymore the primary source of reference information. Books have also become quite accessible and affordable with online bookstores and rising affluence. There are now online platforms for bookworms. Various people seek book recommendations and curated lists online and in social media. These are clearly testing times for physical libraries. But, in my view, there is still a role for old-fashioned libraries and librarians. Physical libraries are still the place where you can sit at leisure and browse through pages without straining your eyes or too many distractions. One gets lost in the words. One gets into a different world. There is peace. All said and done, people crave human contact and physical gatherings that stimulate their brain, heart and soul – what better place for this than a library. Saroj herself embodied that spirit and aspiration for many of us.
In a recent email, Dr Vijay Kelkar (Padma Vibhushan) so aptly put it –“She was an ideal Librarian: a lover of books and also of their readers!”.
Saroj – the person
In Venture Center, Saroj was unique in many ways.
She joined Venture Center almost after crossing retirement age (whatever that means). She was in the midst of a much younger group of colleagues but amazingly at ease with all of them. She happily joined all the celebrations and get-togethers. She joined in the non-strenuous parts of the staff outings or picnics. She made sure she was savvy with computers, phones, email, social media etc. There would be friendly bantering between colleagues and she was not one to be left out. I hear that her nickname was “Colonel” amongst some of our team members – perhaps a name she earned because she could assert herself when she wanted!
Saroj for recognized and adored for her gentleness, politeness, kindness, generosity and helpfulness. After getting some requests from local students (especially from the poorer areas in the vicinity), she started a reading room service for these students. If there was someone in need, she found ways to accommodate that person. Saroj was also quite passionate about many other themes affecting society especially the environment. She was keen on solving the plastic littering menace. She knew that I work with polymeric materials and wanted to understand more on what could be the right ways to go about it and enquired about what I thought of government/ judicial initiatives. In all this, she kept a surprisingly open mind.
Saroj enjoyed her travel and visits. She made sure she visited some place new every year. Occasionally, I would see her holiday pictures in jeans, t-shirt and straw hats and be surprised by the transformation. Interestingly, Saroj was also a keen follower of the financial pages and the stock market. I think she did this more as a hobby — but with considerable knowledge and reading. She had read Peter Lynch’s books and the investor’s bible “The Intelligent Investor”. With all this, I can easily say that she was the “coolest” 60+ lady I have ever met!!
We will all miss Saroj dearly but I am glad she chose to share some of her journey in this world with us and be part of our family!
16 December 2018