It has been our firm belief for long, now reinforced by the present example that the festschrift volumes should be a tribute to the dead, or, at the most, presented in honour of those who have retired or about to retire from public life. A festschrift volume is perhaps too early for Professor Kaula by these standards. The editor in his introduction has called Professor Kaula a live wire. This is possibly the only thing right about appraisal of the man made in the introduction. Kaula is the most controversial person in the world of Indian librarianship. To call him ‘one of the most influential librarians in the world’ is an unpardonable exaggeration. The editor blazes an unhappy trail, thus denying to the readers an objective assessment of both strong and weak points of the subject of his too much adulation.
The fact of the matter is that Kaula embodies the extremes of Indian librarianship in which uncritical praise for the ideas of the late S.R. Ranganathan is combined with grudging reluctance to accept developments on the international scene and their relevance to Indian conditions.
It has however to be said to the credit of the editor that he has brought together nearly sixty pieces of writings on Library Science, both by foreign and Indian librarians, on contemporary issues. The fact that some of the writing seems to be dated does not detract from the above average quality of contributions.
Professor Kaula has always taken pride in claiming a very close relationship with Dr. S.R. Ranganathan, the doyen of librarians in India, in the tradition of guru-chela associations. The festschrift should have been as much a tribute to Dr. Ranganathan because his shadow like Banquo’s ghost seems to haunt the generation of Professor Kaula. It is a pity indeed that Dr. Ranganathan has been left out in the cold, so much so that the father-figure of librarianship is mentioned merely four times in the index. This is like overlooking the name of Karl Marx in any weighty work on Marxism.
The generation of Professor Kaula was fed on the thoughts of Ranganathan. To bring out a volume of more than six hundred pages on Indian librarianship without making an assessment of the work of Ranganathan is inexplicable. To that extent, the festschrift has missed a golden opportunity for making an objective assessment of Indian librarianship.
A couple of articles including one by the old work-horse of American librarianship, Jesse H. Shera have made a half-hearted attempt in the direction. Somebody should have also attempted an assessment of the work of Professor Kaula as a case study of Indian librarianship, especially by examining in depth the material available about him in the archives of the Banaras Hindu University as a veteran of many battle fought around him.
The circle of critics of the indefatigable and to a large extent irrepressible and, to his friends, lovable, Kaula is large nearer home. It is a pity that none of them in Delhi or Varanasi who have known him intimately have come forward to contribute to the Volume. Nor many of the admirers of Indian contributions to librarianship abroad have contributed their mite. The names of the distinguished members of the classification Research Group (London) are entirely missing from the roll of honour. The contributions to the festschrift volume are by the light weight. Those comprehend a wide spectrum covering as they do topics from ‘philosophy of librarianship’ and ‘comparative librarianship’ to ‘education for librarianship’ and ‘university and research librarianship’.
Among the Indian contributors, there is a fair sprinkling of the teachers of library science. Nearly thirty contributors are from abroad testifying to the extent of foreign contributions which is to some extent recognition of Indian librarianship abroad. The impressive list includes Jesse H. Shera, H. Arantz and de Grolier.
It is, however, apparent that those are not the best of the contributions emanating from the distinguished authors. Most of the essays have been written in a scholastic style that does not make for scintillating reading. Those are laboured pieces which are more for record than for reading pleasure or for their informative quality.
The renowned Hindi poet Dr. Suman in his brief preface in his capacity as Chairman of the Festschrift Committee has made the untenable claim that Professor P.N. Kaula has been one of his (Ranganathan’s) foremost disciples ‘who almost inherited the very spirit of his master in word and deed’. Those of us who came to know the innermost recesses of the mind of the old man in his last years shall find it hard to testify to the truth of the sweeping generalization made by Dr. Suman. He was perhaps trying to apply his licence to poetic exaggeration rather too freely.
The truth of the matter is that Dr. Ranganathan was a saddened man in the. last years of his life and disappointed in many of those who claimed to be his loyal disciples. The truth thus lies somewhere in the middle.
On the whole, the festschrift has been a successful venture. What it has failed to achieve is to place the world of librarianship in general and Professor P.N. Kaula in particular in a proper perspective. All that goes to establish the truth of the statement in the initial paragraph about the festschrift volumes to be necessarily commemorative because the dead do not talk back and the retired answer only in hushed and inaudible tones. Who knows Professor Kaula may not yet belie or reinforce the hyperbolic statements made about him by the editor?
Girija Kumar is Chief Librarian, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.