Madras Literary Society is ancient & alluring

The first time I step into Madras Literary Society (MLS), a wave of dust motes and the crisp smell of old books greet me. This feeling, of walking into a home (read library), is familiar to ardent book lovers.

As I bask in the atmosphere of the 207-year-old historic building at Nungambakkam, I feel like I am transported back in time.

I could ‘see’ Britishers in stately attire walking through the shelves and peering at the hardbound books. The architecture, dusty books and creaky shelves, will make you fall in love with the place over and over again.
Rich history Started in 1812, this is India’s oldest subscription library, with prominent members being Annie Besant, Subhas Chandra Bose and Walter Elliot.

Head librarian Uma Maheshwari has been working here for the past 25 years, and her passion to talk about the books and their history, is quite evident.

When I ask her about some of the oldest books here, she says, “There are so many. One of them is Aristotle’s Opera Omnia in Greek and Latin. There is also a first edition copy of Issac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.”

She also states that MLS safeguards ancient maps of India made by British cartographers. “Some of them are big, like the size of this table,” says Uma pointing to a large piece of furniture placed in the middle of the hall.

Even as I was imagining myself to be Indiana Jones and looking at these fine pieces of history, she goes on to add, “Such old books are restricted for members.”

Activities galore
Loyal members, energetic volunteers and a dozen more historians, academicians and many others, keep the place running by organising interesting events every week.

For instance, the Chennai Photo Biennale, an ongoing photography exhibition, is taking place here until 24 March.

Also, the MLS community takes the initiative to rope in volunteers who dust the books and catalogue it. “Many college students and working professionals come here in the weekends for this,” she notes.

For more details, contact 2827 9666.

Mohammed Rayaan