Building together the library foundation for the Gundert study center and museum in Thalassary, a terrific Heritage project under the leadership of the Kerala Tourism Department.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life things never look as if they’re falling into place any time soon. But things sometimes really do fall into place, if you take a moment to breath and look back to find out how all of this began to shape.
In my life at an early stage printed books started to play a substantial and indispensable role. I learned to read in the age of five or six years, as most German kids do, and soon I loved to read everything from history to fantasy, from political news to sports updates. It was my curiosity to read the news that turned me into an early bird, waking up for picking up the newspaper having been delivered to the letter box at around 5 in the morning and then I would enjoy the news with a coffee and breakfast at the side.
My parents used to give my siblings and me books as gifts to birthdays and church holidays and in my teen years I intuitively started to collect books which would become a remarkable personal library. Books metaphorically became my life coat and my library grew to a systematic collection of thousands of novels and poetry, studies in media science, history, philosophy, fine arts.
Later it dawned on me that books connected me not only to the igniting history of humankind - helping us stand on the shoulders of giants - but directly to my ancestors, too, most of whom I’ve sadly never met because they died before I was born. My grandfather Julius was a professional printer and started his own company before the First World War. My father Friedhelm learned the craft of printing in his father’s printing lab, but changed his profession after the Second World War and became a protestant pastor, an occupation, of course, closely related to the impact of words, communication and printed books.
Looking back, I’m proud of my family’s achievements, and especially of my granddad as a pioneering mediapreneur, leading me to reflect my own professional career as a mirror of the timeline of media evolution. In the course of the last three decades, I worked for print, radio, TV and online media, with the biggest share as a writer, editor and producer for radio documentaries and broadcast journalism, going from analog tapes to digital convergence and new technologies.
Today, I’m an expert in digital and emerging media and a vivid user of all digital. And, what I wouldn’t have anticipated long ago, I happily closed the chapter as a book collector and wish to donate my books and media collection to eager readers and knowledge sharers who appreciate it and purposefully make use of it.
When I first visited Kerala in the early weeks of February 2017, I arrived by night train from Chennai - where I worked as a visiting lecturer in New Media at the Asian College of Journalism - at the Thalassary station. At that time my knowledge of Thalassary and of the extraordinary story of Dr. Hermann and Julie Gundert’s friendship to Keralities, their lasting work in the education system as well as Gundert’s amazing achievement to write the first Malayalm grammar and dictionary, was as dark as the night I arrived in. Then my friend and wonderful travel guide Shijin Parambath picked me up at the station and with the dawn of the next morning he started to show me around and made me visit many educational places, among them the EMS Memorial Library in Paduvilary, the Gundert statue in downtown Thalassary and the bungalow and school, where Gundert had worked.
In my German school years, we never learned about Hermann and Julie Gundert, funny enough, only about their grandson Hermann Hesse and his legendary Indian connection as if this hadn’t been inspired by his family’s experiences and legacy. So, when my Now Age Storytelling co-founder Devadas Rajaram came to Stuttgart as a visiting professor in multimedia storytelling, we visited Gundert’s family grave on the cemetery in Calw, near Stuttgart, and the Hermann Hesse museum in Calw, and from there the future of my book collection started to fall into place.
Ever since I’m a regular visitor to Kerala and only recently spent a week in Kannur and Thalassary, visiting multiple village libraries and connecting with librarians, educators, students, journalists and media professionals. The hospitality as well as the eagerness to learn and share knowledge I meet in Kerala - in Kannur district directly related to Gundert’s work - is heartwarming and priceless to me. I can’t imagine a better place or others to hand over my library to and see it purposefully used.
Books are for readers not for shelves. In my view, human knowledge is stored and spread in diverse layers, connecting the knowledge of the world and making it available for all. First, we got the analog physical layer of personal communication, secondly, we have the printed layer of systematic book collections, thirdly, and in today's now age, we have the digital and 3D layers, transforming knowledge into liquid, snackable and personalised multimedia content, accessible through 4G and 5G internet from anywhere at any time. The three layers are deeply intertwined and it is our duty as senior media professionals to invite younger generations and all learners into the sophisticated and infinite universe of human knowledge by protecting and keeping all three layers intact and knowledge storehouses accessible.
No doubt, I’m looking forward to help building the knowledge layers for the Gundert study center in Thalassary by donating my book and media collection to it, making it a lively meeting point for communities and all eager readers around.