By Adilah Ismail
A family home turned community centre, the Lakmahal Library, founded by Anisha Dias Bandaranaike, will come to life as one of the six venues for the 2022 edition of Colomboscope
The Lakmahal Community Library is made up of certain elements that book lovers dream of when they daydream about a reading space: window seats and a half-moon verandah overlooking greenery, lots of natural light, cool cut cement floors combined with wooden flooring, nooks to settle into with a book or to write in.
Founder of the Lakmahal Library, Anisha Dias Bandaranaike enjoys reading and writing and opening a community space that hinged on literature was something she had always wanted to do. With the help of a board of directors, well-wishers, like-minded book lovers and book donations, a long lingering idea comes to fruition later this week.
A part of the old family home, built in 1937 which her mother and grandmother grew up in, has been transformed into a public space with a library and reading room. The library opens to the public in mid-January. What was once the dining room is now a compact library and reading area while the living room has been converted to a well-ventilated, well-lit, COVID-friendly meeting space – ideal for those who wish to avoid air-conditioned rooms.
“It’s a project to get people to read more, write more and engage with literature,” explains Anisha. “I am fortunate and privileged enough to not have to rent this space out so I wanted to use it to help and impact the community in some way and encourage literature.”
What also sets the Lakmahal Community Library apart is its eventual focus to gradually function as a space to encourage creative writing and to hold classes and programmes around writing and other multi-disciplinary creative forms.
Anisha explains that the initial vision for the space was to have a library, a Centre for Creative Writing and a café and to tap into a niche of people interested in literature and literary events. But COVID-19 has paused some of these plans.
Initially, an online survey was done in March 2020 to gauge public interest for a space like this in Colombo, how much people would be willing to pay for a membership, what kind of books they wanted to read and more. Over the weeks, 1,800 books have been catalogued, sorted and placed on the shelves.
For now, because of space constraints, the library houses English books but will expand gradually to trilingual offerings.
Dhananath Fernando, Priyanthi Fernando, Ameena Hussein and Chalani Ranwala make up the library’s Board of Directors, serving voluntarily. Anisha’s mother, Anila, has been instrumental in setting up the interiors – the floor cushions are made of Anila’s repurposed sarees and family photographs offer a glimpse of the people who moved through the house decades ago, offering personal touches to the space. The genres in the library have been shaped by the donations received as well as reader requests and span mystery, non-fiction, young adult, south Asian fiction and general fiction. An online catalogue of books at the library will be available on their site. While the library has been personally funded by Anisha during its inaugural phase, there are plans to set up an endowment, earn income through the writing courses to ensure its sustainability and daily operations in the future.
Another key element was to honour the spirit of the house and its past life – a space where people gathered, had conversations and even got married.
“That was another thing that was important for me – to keep this house going. I wanted to keep it as a space for people to talk and meet. That was kind of the way the house used to be,” says Anisha.
In its opening weeks, the Lakmahal Community Library is set to come to life as a community space for people to gather and convene as it forms one of the six venues for the 2022 edition of Colomboscope. (see box)
Lakmahal Community Library is located at 8A, Alfred House Road, Colombo 3. Library membership is Rs. 500 per month and Rs. 5,000 per year. Student discounts are available. For more info: https://www.instagram.com/lakmahalcmb/
Article originally published in the Sunday Times