An avid reader, books meant the world for Mahmuda Khatun Siddiqua. Often, she would dream about things she had read.
When she was an undergraduate student, she read an essay on library by Rabindranath Tagore in Bichitra Prabandha.
All she wished for at that time was to have a library of her own. It was in the early 1970's and she did not have the resources to build one.
However, out of her love for books, she studied Library Science after completing her graduation. In 1976, she joined University of Rajshahi as librarian.
After serving there for 40 years, she decided to build a library in her house with the pension money. Books had become an integral part of her existence.
Mahmuda said, "When I retired, I felt empty without books around me. But I realised that it is never too late to chase my dream. So, I started working on building a library."
It was not a hard project to start with because all three of her children are also passionate about reading and books. She would regularly take them to book fairs and all of them love to collect books.
Her two sons are travellers who roam the world and collect books from different countries.
She mentioned that her younger son Tareq Onu has collected book renditions from famous events such as Frankfurt Book Fair. At the moment, the library has around 3,500 books.
A collection of rare books
From her experience, Mahmuda saw that it was easier to collect books on literature than on nature, art, adventure or travel. So although her library has a rich collection of many books, the focus is on collecting as many books on these particular genres as possible.
The collection also includes a few hundred issues of the National Geographic magazine and Time-Life series on world art, world history and civilization.
Friends and family members who sometimes visit the library are mostly nature and travel enthusiasts. Mahmuda is also working on making the place more children-friendly. The library can currently accommodate 50-60 people.
It also has rare books on nature by Davin Attenborough, Gerald Durrell, Jane Goodall, Peter Mathissen, Aldo Leopold, and Alan Rabinowitz.
The target is to have a collection of 50,000 books and Mahmuda intends to extend the space to achieve it.
A sustainable investment
Most people prefer to invest their pension money in properties or something similar. What drove Mahmuda to use hers to build a library?
To this, she replied, "I do not demand much from life."
She continued, "We already have a house to live in. My children have grown up and they are on their own. I believe that investing in a library is the most sustainable."
Two and a half years ago, she began to renovate the fourth floor of their house to build the library which now occupies a space of 3000 square feet.
Talking about maintenance, she said, she likes to do all the work herself. Her sons help her when they are home and she has a house help who lends a hand every now and then.
Mahmuda wishes for the library to be open for all, but she is also afraid to do it right away.
"When I went to visit my sons in Finland, they took me to tours of different libraries. I really enjoyed visiting those modern libraries and was mesmerised by their treatment of books. They take such good care of them," she said.
However, she thinks that in our society, we fail to value books.
"People lack commitment. They often borrow books but never return them. Sometimes when they do, the books are in poor conditions. This is a bad practice. I do not want to be in dispute with anyone, which is why I am taking my time before opening it for all," she said.
She added that she is thinking of a strategy that would make people value books. As soon as she figures it out, she would open the library for visitors.
Even if she does so, would she find many readers such as hers? Our younger generation does not seem to be very engaged in reading.
But Mahmuda is not ready to give up on the country's youths. She personally knows quite a few young book worms and believes that there are more out there.
Identifying the reasons why children these days do not read much, she said that technology plays a huge role in it. Lack of role models is also one reason.
"I spent 40 years in a university library. There was a time when university professors used to spend a good amount of time in the library. With time, their presence became a rare sight. How can we expect students to come here if the teachers do not?"
Future plans for her library
In future, Mahmuda plans to have a small tea or coffee corner in the library. But it would not be a commercial space in any sense. Her plan remains halted at the moment because of the pandemic.
While many people are complaining about remaining indoors, she said that she is having a great time with her books.
"Reading books is always more productive than engaging in petty conversations that do not have any outcome," she said.
Mahmuda spends at least 3-4 hours daily in her library.
"I wish to breathe my last in here, the way Mughal Emperor Humayun did in his library" she said.