Around the New York Public Library – Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

I know of Library Walk in New York City because it starts from where I work.

If you step out of the imposing Grand Central terminal, cross Pershing square and walk about twenty meters due south you will see, through the streets, the distinctive wide white facade of New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

41st street, connecting Park Avenue, Madison Avenue, and 5th Avenue is called Library Parkway. Along both sides of the street, there are steel slabs embedded in the pavement, which have various quotes and poems extolling the virtues of literature and reading.

It always strikes me as a well thought out tribute to NYC and it’s aspirations. India, as far as I know, does not have a truly functioning public institution of reading.

Since my workplace is at the corner of  41st and Park Avenue, it is a route I have walked countless times over 5 years. Whenever I get some free time to stretch my feet, or if I want to clear my head after work, I walk down 41st street. The skyscrapers on either side ensure that the 41st street is perennially shadowed and after walking through these metal structures, you feel a sense of space and freedom when you arrive at 5th avenue.

When it is not too cold, in the afternoons, I grab my lunch at the steps. It is fun watching the traffic, the pedestrians, and the general bustle of people. The absence of street hawking is always a pleasant experience in not reminding me of poverty.

Around the corner, down 42nd street, there is a shoe shining business. A couple of high chairs are parked on the pavement below which is an assortment of waxing and burnishing cutlery, and a black man.

When sitting on the steps I generally don’t let my eyes rest on the flowing foot traffic. But now and then I catch sight of an Indian face among the crowd. Indian women especially make for interesting observations. Even though I understand the difficulties Indian women face back home, I cannot help the slight wave of resentment and remorse at seeing hot Indian women among the crowds.

Were they always this confident back in India? Did they not want to flaunt their thighs and curves in India like how they so confidently seem to here? For women who cover up for half a billion men back in the continent, do I remind them of who they ran away from? Another Indian with the male gaze. I follow their walks from when I spot them. How carefree they look. How smug in their exoticism. Rarely do I see Indian women with good asses and thighs, and I follow them even after they pass me. Recreational athleticism and the Indian feminine form, while not technically incompatible, had always been rare in public display from where I came from. One way or the other, I manage to find a spot of sourness in the Indian grape. She seems to want to prove a point. Her skirt is unnecessarily long. So tacky. Who wears boots in summer? That ass sags worse than an early 90s honda civic airbag. Too Indian to pull it off. Of course, she had to find a white mayonnaise guy, too good for us brown people. This one is Indian-Indian. And if I find another Indian standing and watching the crowd, I follow their gaze and watch people watching people. Like someone vandalizing what cannot ever be accessible to them, I strip and criticize Indian hotness.

Occasionally I go into the library too, though not nowadays. Every time I go in, I am awed by the stately interiors.

Once I took a casual picture of the hallway with my phone, and only when I looked back at the photo, realized how ornate and reinforced the entire corridor that connected the two wings of the building was.

This was as much a fort as a library and it again dawned on me that books had material value. These were costly artifacts that are served to the public. After that realization, I have never been able to fully shake off the feeling that this was less a library and more a Fort Knox of literature.

On the northern wing, bordering 42nd street, is the map room, looking out over the 5th Avenue. On the opposite side, towards the back of the building, if you walk through the vaults of research areas, you can look through the windows and see Bryant Park.

On days, when I take the Q train, I get down at Times Square and walk through Bryant Park to my workplace.  I am not sure which approach to NYPL I love the most. This direction presents the backside of the NYPL building, stretching across streets, a solid background to the greenery of the park. There is an intimacy in this walk that is devoid of the literary associations of Library Walk and the frontal approach.

It will be interesting to see how this short route changes if I retrace this route after some years.

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