"Books are for readers" - Building the community-based Gundert Museum and Study Centre in Thalassery
Even at a time, when most people feel their world is out of joint, some things fall into place. Things which have been planted a long time ago. Today this article arrived at my doorstep with a reassurance. It’s Jacquiline Roberts Singh who narrates in her nuanced and profound style the story of how my library travelled the world with me and now found a new destination.
Jacquiline quotes me as saying “Books are for readers not for shelves” what brings us straight to the core of the whole story. I believe that the value of books - both printed as well as online - is their shareability, the knowledge they contain must be shared, only that reflects and translates their unique value. Of course, I’ll always remain a vivid reader and writer. Yet I changed my reading and writing habits, when I started to migrate step by step into digital habits and online communication environments. Since then the question started to linger in my mind what would become of my books as they represent a very special library built on the ground of critical thinking in the humanities and arts. The answer emerged over some time. And today I couldn’t be more happy to have found the best and most genuine place I could have thought of, in the lively community of the new Dr. Hermann Gundert Study Centre and Museum in Thalassery, in Kerala’s Kannur district.
Hermann Gundert - well-known to everyone in Kerala though not in Germany, happens to be the grandfather of Herman Hesse, who’s well-known to everyone in Germany though not in Kerala - transformed the many years he spent as an educator and scholar in Thalassery - together with his wife Julie who also was a teacher - into a brilliantly productive research period of Malayalam. Certainly in collaboration with Malayali scholars, he was determined to develop the first written grammar and dictionary for Malayalam, spoken currently by more than 37 million people alone in India, with a large diaspora abroad. Gundert’s tireless work not only protected Malayalam, made it sustainable and better shareable by creating a proper written documentation of the language, his work also created the foundation for educational material in Malayalam as a mother tongue. That’s an important fact as research shows that kids learn new knowledge much faster and remember it better, if learned in their mother tongue.
Gundert’s mission can only fully be understood as a mission of extensive knowledge sharing and a celebration of participation. While many of his contemporaries prohibited the use of indigene languages and enforced colonial languages on the people in non-European world regions, the fact that Gundert supported the study of the mother tongue, produced and used shareable educational material of it, shows him as a truly exceptional scholar. It’s a wonderful decision to establish the study centre and museum in Gundert’s name and make it the centre of the extensive, artful Cultural Heritage Circuit in Thalassery with more than 50 stations, honouring the rich culture of the region and personalities who contributed to building it.
As there’s a time for everything, often there’s also only a limited time slot for something to being achieved. The new “Cultural Heritage Circuit” in Kannur was planned long before Corona and it will be there long after. Today watching library backgrounds in Zoom hangouts, reminds me how lucky I’m that my books are used by people. So, this went well. As most of us are currently holding our breath over what will happen in our democracies and planet earth in the near and next future, it’s reassuring that we can achieve more through collaborating together and have the power to let some things fall into place. Shareable things, shareable knowledge - what matters at the end of day.
👉🏻Find here Jacquiline Roberts Singh's article in Newsclick, published on 29.5.2020: https://www.newsclick.in/Kerala-Public-Libraries-Gundert-Library-Lal-Bahadur-Vayanasala