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 [...]


A new chapter for Lakmahal

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

Lakmahal Library: Cosy book nook in heart of Colombo. Pic by Adilah Ismail

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:

Colomboscope 2022: Catch the action at six venues across Colombo
Colomboscope, a contemporary arts festival and creative platform for interdisciplinary dialogue, works with numerous artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, social theorists and scientific researchers from Sri Lanka and internationally.

The 2022 festival on from January 21-30, unpacks the varied facets of language through multiple modes – belonging, diasporic lineages, dislocation, nationhood, people, words and more – through its theme ‘Language is Migrant’, at the following venues:

Colombo Public Library

Established in July 1925, the Colombo Public Library was an amalgamation of the Colombo library and the Pettah library. It has a collection of nearly one million books, 57 newspapers and 111 periodical titles in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

International and local collaborators exhibiting at the venue will present exhibits which have evolved through dialogue and sociality to foreground collective pedagogies, body movement, and choreography in everyday life, as well as community archives.

Vijitharan Maryathevathas, Jagath Weerasinghe, Rupaneethan Pakkiyarajah, Hanusha Somasundaram, Lavkant Chaudhary, Shailesh BR, We Are From Here, Mariah Lookman, Cecilia Vicuña, Mounira Al Solh, Pangrok Sulap, Liz Fernando, Marinella Senatore, A Thousand Channels, Packiyanathan Ahilan, Slavs and Tatars and Rajni Perera will feature at the venue. Part of this venue is wheelchair accessible.

Rio Complex

The Rio Cinema was opened in 1965 and the Rio Hotel a decade later. Looted and set ablaze by mobs, the Rio Complex stands as a charred monument to the Black July riots in the city.

Mano Prashath, Sundharam Anojan, Thisath Thoradeniya, Danushka Marasinghe, Sharika Navamani, M. T. F. Rukshana, Palash Bhattacharjee, Aziz Hazara, Baaraan Ijlal, Omer Wasim, Pallavi Paul, Elin Már Øyen Vister, Pınar Öğrenci, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Ahilan Ratnamohan and Aaraniyam exhibit at the Rio Complex.

Barefoot Gallery

At Barefoot Gallery, artists use textile and collage as mediums to release visual chronicles. Thread and pixel replace the pen in composing storylines, evoking fields of aspirational movement, desire, disability, and displacement. Work by Areez Katki, T. Vinoja, Hema Shironi and Abdul Halik Azeez feature at the venue. This venue is wheelchair accessible.

Lakmahal Community Library

The reading room at the library is titled Reading in Tongues, borrowing from queer Chicana poet, writer and feminist theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa’s text ‘Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers.’

Reading in Tongues is organized in collaboration with Ishara Art Foundation. Participants include Indran Amirthanayagam, Kadak Collective, Jason Dodge, Dora García, Mythri Jegathesan, kal, Omar Kasmani, Kumari Kumaragamage, Mantiq of the Mantis, Yoshinori Niwa, Christian Nyampeta, The Packet, Packiyanathan Ahilan, SCROLL: Projects on Paper, Mounira Al Solh and Nada Ghosn, Slavs and Tatars, T. Thajendran, Bombay Underground, Cecilia Vicuña, Omer Wasim and Belinda Zhawi.

This venue is wheelchair accessible.

W. A. Silva Museum

The W. A. Silva Museum and Printing Press led by the Akuru Collective is the former home of best-selling author of Sinhalese literature, W. A. Silva. It showcases a complete traditional letterpress and a collection of wood and metal types. Housing the Institute of Typography Sri Lanka, it also has an archive of books, ephemera and printed resources dating from the 19th century.

Here, artistic presentations by T. Krishnapriya, Imaad Majeed, Saskia Pintelon and Jason Dodge include site-responsive works in dialogue with the transforming role of print culture. Part of this venue in Wellawatte is wheelchair accessible.

Lak Café

Lak Café is the open- air café at the Viharamahadevi Park where each evening of the festival, the Hearing Voices Café, a project with a series of conversations, shared acts of recitation, and performances will unfold. Audiences are invited to engage and respond to these and contribute to a newspaper that extends through the course of the festival.

Dora García with Jayampathi Guruge feature at this venue. Events include community storytelling, conversations with writers, academics and artists, open mics and more. The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Pix courtesy  Colomboscope

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