Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Siam Diary: Books and Coffee

Bangkok, in May, is quite hot. And the high-rises, which dot the city in some places, and dominate the skyline in some others, do not do much to help dissipate the heat.

In the midst of all the heat and the hustle-bustle of a city always on the move, I was introduced to the Nielsen Hays Library by a dear friend. I am an avid reader, and when, on a sabbatical, I have often been hitting my head against the wall trying to think of something to do, this Library has begun to occupy a very special place in my partially vacant life.

An outside view of Library building and the adjacent cafe
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

The Nielsen Hays Library was started in 1869 by a small group of American and British women. What began on a very small scale turned into an institution by the turn of the century. The building, which currently houses the Library, was built by Dr. Thomas Heywood Hays in 1921, in loving memory of his late wife, Jennie Nielsen Hays. Jennie Nielsen Hays was a powerful force behind the Library in the early 20th century, and served as President of the Library thrice, until her untimely death in 1920.

The Library building up close
(c) Shubhrata Prakash
The Library is situated on Surawong Road in Silom. The beautiful white building is surrounded by an abundance of greenery. The building was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno. In 1986, the building was awarded the status of "Historic Landmark" by the Association of Siamese Architects. While from the outside it looks serene, with its white walls set against a natural green backdrop, on the inside, it is indeed majestic. The high vaulted domed ceiling and arched columns add to the beauty, while book cases and other architectural details, in polished Burma teak, add the right dose of class and sophistication.

The Library houses a huge collection of books, many of them donated by readers and patrons. There are old books and new books. Fiction and non-fiction. Hardbacks and paperbacks. The books are mostly in English, though there is a small section for Thai books too. There is also a small bookcase shelving books which focus on South-East Asia. There is a children's section as well where small children can sit and thumb through their kind of books.

A green chicken salad and a latte
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

In addition to the Library, and abutting the main building, is a small white glasshouse which is the Library cafe. It offers simple fare like salads, sandwiches, wraps, and of course, many varieties of coffee and iced drinks. Sitting inside the cafe, one has the feeling of sitting in a garden, albeit a really cool one, especially considering the temperature outside! There is ample space for parking.

Me @ the Library
(c) Shubhrata Prakash

Besides housing books for lending, the Library is also associated with several other literary and related activities.  The Library runs a book club which meets monthly to discuss and deliberate on the works of a chosen author. Craft activities for children, sale of paintings and handicrafts, book sales and a host of musical and cultural events are also associated with the Library.

Every city needs an oasis like this....and I am so glad that I have found this one in Bangkok. Hopefully, with so much of reading material on my hands (and in the bag which I carry to the Library!), time would be whizzing past soon. Who knows, the books may even add to my knowledge of the world and its ways....and my crass whodunit-taste in books may reach slightly elevated, if not all out exalted, levels!!!

Now a cache of books reposes on my desk
(c) Shubhrata Prakash