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The musty smell, typical of books stored in ill-lit spaces, hit my nose. I peered through the dim light in the JNU library, trying to locate a book for an urgent assignment. I pulled out some books, disturbing the dust. Coughed and sneezed before I dusted them carefully and set them on a table.
I was doing my MPhil in international studies and not many places offered information on an esoteric subject like Latin America. This was just 32 years ago. 1987. Yet, looking back, it seems like the Dark Ages.
More often than not, the books I wanted would be missing, especially those that had been borrowed, most probably, by a colleague working in the same area. It was the classic case of the early bird, finders keepers, first come first served. Friendships paused at the library doorstep. Once in, you had to use your ingenuity, mislead your competitor and grab the book when you spotted it.
Even in a top-notch university like JNU, it was difficult to get all the information. To bone up on an issue, country or any godforsaken thing, location was important. Big cities with large libraries were a prerequisite if one had to succeed in research.
A job that had anything to do with information was not easy. As journalists, one had little option but to seek out experts to get the lay of the land. It would not be easy sitting in Delhi to write about, say, an event in Sudan. One had to go to the experts—foreign ministry mandarins or a JNU professor.
The perspective would always be from one main source. I chose to write my MPhil thesis on the “United Nations response to the Nicaraguan conflict (of the 1980s)” as the bulk of the primary material was available at the UN library in Delhi’s Lodi Estate. One had to hunt out information like a Rottweiler, swallow and regurgitate the material as analysis, perspective or narrative. Now Google that if I am wrong.