In small pock­ets of the coun­try, ef­forts are be­ing made to build a com­mu­nity of read­ers, book by book, finds Jayan­thi So­ma­sun­daram

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE -

With the na­tion’s print book mar­ket val­ued at J26,000 crore, In­dia is wit­ness­ing a move­ment within its small pock­ets, where ef­forts are be­ing made to build a com­mu­nity of read­ers, book by book

Jules Verne has just reached 16-year-old Lak­sh­manan Kup­puswamy. Turn­ing the pages of Around the World in 80 Days is mak­ing Lak­sh­manan both proud and a tri­fle em­bar­rassed. He can read the ti­tle, but is not sure how to pro­nounce Phileas Fogg, the name of the trav­el­ling hero of the book. Lak­sh­manan is a first-gen­er­a­tion learner and a farmer’s son, who has been liv­ing in the AIM for Seva’s Free Stu­dent Hos­tel in Hari­pad, Ker­ala. The au­thor­i­ties have set up an in-house li­brary in the hos­tel with the sup­port of donors. “At school, we read text­books. But I like read­ing all books,” he says. Cur­rently, he is read­ing the Bha­gavad Gita in Malay­alam, apart from Verne’s ex­ploits.

As the 125th birth an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions of SR Ran­ganathan, mas­ter ar­chi­tect of the li­brary move­ment in In­dia, un­fold, ‘mini-li­braries’ and ‘read­ing cor­ners’ across un­con­ven­tional spa­ces are full of the rus­tle of pages turn­ing, read-alouds and sto­ry­telling.

“Ran­ganathan’s sys­tem was beau­ti­fully crafted. How­ever, to­day, we need to cre­ate sys­tems that work for each re­gion sep­a­rately,” says N Bhaskara Rao, founder of BREAD So­ci­ety, Hy­der­abad.

The so­ci­ety’s first project reached 4,911 stu­dents in 12 vil­lages in the dis­tricts of Gun­tur, Kr­ishna, and East Go­davari in Andhra Pradesh. “We have set up 927 li­braries to ben­e­fit over 4,00,000 stu­dents,” says Rao, ad­ding that the catch lies in iden­ti­fy­ing a book that will in­ter­est chil­dren. “It’s like a match-mak­ing process; you need to se­lect the right book to ig­nite the spark.”

Kul­layyappa, the head­mas­ter of the Zilla Par­ishad High School in Naras­a­pu­ram vil­lage in Anan­ta­pur dis­trict, Andhra Pradesh, ex­plains that with the sup­port of the so­ci­ety, they have a li­brary that has nearly 1,000 books. Their li­braries are meant for read­ers in the pri­mary age group of seven to 12 years. Clear guide­lines ex­ist on oper­at­ing the li­braries through Vol­un­tary Stu­dent Li­brar­i­ans, but many schools do not fol­low them.

The lack of fund­ing is also ap­par­ent in their ad hoc na­ture. Most of them are mini-li­braries set up on a few shelves on a wall, or kept in a steel almi­rah, while some are locked safely in cup­boards.

In a model sim­i­lar to BREAD, the Gyan-key ini­tia­tive by Pune-based NGO Ru­ral Re­la­tions works to­wards open­ing li­braries in sec­ondary schools in vil­lages of Maharashtra. The project’s li­brary is for the stu­dents, and man­aged by them. One girl stu­dent known as the ‘Gyan-key mon­i­tor’ man­ages each li­brary.

“A ‘Non-Res­i­dent Vil­lager (NRV)’ lives in­side each of us, be­cause ul­ti­mately, our roots can be traced back to vil­lages. I be­lieve that as a NRV, we can al­ways reach out, sup­port and con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of ru­ral In­dia. With the help of these NRVs, we have in­stalled 3,640 Gyan-key li­braries in ru­ral sec­ondary schools as of to­day,” re­veals 51-year-old founder Pradeep Lokhande. He has plans to set up 85,000 more li­braries.

In the 2016 Union Bud­get, the gov­ern­ment had an­nounced plans to launch the dig­i­tal lit­er­acy mis­sion for ru­ral In­dia to cover around six crore ad­di­tional house­holds. With all in­for­ma­tion sys­tems be­com­ing avail­able on smart­phones and tablets, the gov­ern­ment ex­pects to cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Na­tional Youth Read­er­ship Sur­vey (between 13 and 35 years of age), three of four youths in In­dia are lit­er­ate, and a quar­ter of them reads books. Every year, the An­nual Sta­tus of Ed­u­ca­tion Re­port (ASER) by NGO Pratham at­tempts to as­sess whether chil­dren in ru­ral In­dia go to school, can read sim­ple text, and do ba­sic math.

The ASER 2016 re­port re­leased this year re­veals that na­tion­ally the read­ing abil­ity among chil­dren, es­pe­cially in early grades in gov­ern­ment schools, has im­proved. How­ever, as stu­dents grow older, there seems to be a de­cline.

To­day a trav­el­ling book­store, they ini­tially car­ried books in a back­pack and trav­elled around small towns and vil­lages, dis­play­ing books on foot­paths, bus stops and other pub­lic spa­ces for the com­mon peo­ple to view

Not-for-profit ini­tia­tives such as Pratham Books, which has pub­lished over 2,000 books in 18 In­dian lan­guages that in­clude fic­tion, non-fic­tion, sto­ry­books on sci­ence, his­tory, maths and na­ture, aims to reach 200 mil­lion chil­dren in In­dia—‘a book in every child’s hand’.

Suzanne Singh, chair­per­son of Pratham Books, ex­plains that chil­dren need ac­cess to a wide and di­verse range of books in their own lan­guages. Pratham ran a cam­paign called ‘Missed call do, ka­hani suno’ where chil­dren could dial in to lis­ten to a story in a lan­guage of their choice. In just five days, they re­ceived 37,000 calls.

“Schools are not equipped with func­tional li­braries and in their homes, sto­ry­books are a lux­ury for many,” she says. The Li­brary-in-a-Class­room by Pratham Books was de­vel­oped keep­ing in mind this is­sue.

It is a wall-mounted unit that houses about 125 books, which can be put up in any class­room. It comes with its own stor­age unit with a lock­ing fa­cil­ity. Over 7,000 of these li­braries have been in­stalled across the coun­try since 2012. When a child finds the right book at the right time, it can open a world of un­der­stand­ing, self-mo­ti­va­tion, and joy, points out Neeraj Jain, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Scholas­tic In­dia. With the Scholas­tic Kids & Fam­ily Read­ing Re­port, In­dia Edi­tion 2016, a sur­vey on the at­ti­tude and be­hav­iour of kids and par­ents about read­ing books for fun, the pub­lish­ing house gained valu­able in­sights into how to en­cour­age chil­dren to read more.

“Ac­cess to books at home is crit­i­cal, which leads to aca­demic suc­cess—greater than even house­hold in­come or par­ents’ ed­u­ca­tion lev­els,” he says. Start­ing their In­dian oper­a­tions in 1997, Scholas­tic has been pro­mot­ing read­ing through their book clubs for 20 years.

Through book club and book fair pro­grammes, they reach out to ap­prox­i­mately 9-10 mil­lion chil­dren each year.

Ac­cord­ing to a Scholas­tic and YouGov study, at the start of this year, nearly six out of 10 young peo­ple between the age group of six and 17 said they read for fun, a percentage that has dipped slightly since a 2010 re­port.

“Re­search shows that chil­dren who are read to are more likely to be­come ef­fec­tive read­ers,” ex­plains author Mridula Koshy. She and her part­ner Michael Creighton started The Com­mu­nity Li­brary Project in 2008. “At the Ramditti Deepalaya Learn­ing Cen­tre in Delhi, there are ap­prox­i­mately 800 ac­tive mem­bers and a typ­i­cal week might see 200-250 chil­dren at­tend­ing read-alouds,” she says.

Mridula re­counts that the ini­tia­tive fol­lowed af­ter read­ing to over two dozen Class VI-VIII chil­dren at Ramditti JR Narang Deepalaya School. Their first ex­pe­ri­ence made them aware of the fact that hun­dreds of chil­dren in a school build­ing and thou­sands in the neigh­bour­hood did not have sim­i­lar ac­cess be­cause there are few pub­lic li­braries in Delhi.

To­day, they have set up three com­mu­nity li­braries and one more will be set up later this year. The mem­bers of the li­brary are mostly first-gen­er­a­tion learn­ers from mi­grant and low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties.

“Chil­dren by na­ture have cu­ri­ous minds and we need to de­velop tech­niques to in­spire them to dive into a book,” say Tina Shankar­lal (32) and Deepak Sharma (30), founders of an ini­tia­tive that has been run­ning read­ing pro­grammes in schools and col­leges in Mad­hya Pradesh since 2016. They say that the lack of a mo­ti­vat­ing en­vi­ron­ment both at school and home is one of the rea­sons read­ing has been given less im­por­tance. “In some schools, we have ob­served that the idea of read­ing books is lim­ited to clas­sics and this has not gen­er­ated any in­ter­est,” says Deepak, who or­gan­ises two events every month in In­dore to fa­cil­i­tate read­ing among kids.

There are hun­dreds of vil­lages and small towns, and even many ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple do not read or have ac­cess to books, say Ak­shaya Rau­taray (36) and Satabdi Mishra (34), founders of Walk­ing BookFairs, an in­de­pen­dent book­store based out of Bhubaneswar in Odisha. To­day a trav­el­ling book­store, they ini­tially car­ried books in a back­pack and trav­elled around small towns and vil­lages dis­play­ing books on foot­paths, bus stops and other pub­lic spa­ces for the com­mon peo­ple to view, read and buy at a dis­count.

“We found that many schools and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, in both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas, do not have good li­braries. Which is why it was es­sen­tial for us to take books to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” says the team that has trav­elled more than 20,000 km.

The big­gest chal­lenge Walk­ing BookFairs faced is the apa­thy, es­pe­cially from the ed­u­cated, priv­i­leged mid­dle class. Par­ents do not en­cour­age their chil­dren to read be­yond their course cur­ricu­lum, states the team.

They reached out to tribal chil­dren in Odisha and Jhark­hand through Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sci­ences in Mum­bai as part of their ‘The Read More In­dia’ tour of 20 states across In­dia in 2015-16.

Just af­ter the tsunami in 2004, the Li­brary Project by the Delhi-based As­so­ci­a­tion of Writ­ers and Il­lus­tra­tors for Chil­dren (AWIC)—win­ner of the IBBY-ASAHI Read­ing Pro­mo­tion Award—reached out to the af­fected chil­dren. “In 2005, a team vis­ited Na­ga­p­at­ti­nam in Tamil Nadu with a box full of books. The same ac­tiv­ity was done in An­daman. We were able to set up five li­braries in Port Blair for chil­dren who were liv­ing in tem­po­rary shel­ters,” re­counts Indira Bagchi, trea­surer and in charge of AWIC Li­brary Project.

Since its in­cep­tion in 1983, AWIC has been able to set up 170 fully func­tional li­braries in Delhi and other parts of In­dia. There are li­braries for adi­vasi chil­dren in Daman and also in Ranchi.

Each year, AWIC awards the Best Li­brar­ian, and two Reader of the Year awards from AWIC Chil­dren’s Li­braries. Li­brar­i­ans se­lect two best read­ers who have read the max­i­mum num­ber of books. For 2016-2017, over 25 li­braries par­tic­i­pated in the an­nual event.

In Mum­bai, Ka­hani Tree, a chil­dren’s book­store, was founded in 2006 by Sangeeta Bhansali of Vak­ils—a Mum­baibased pub­lish­ing com­pany. She be­lieves that well-planned book events and chil­dren’s lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals go a long way in spread­ing the read­ing cul­ture.

“When chil­dren get a chance to meet and in­ter­act with the author of a book they’ve read, or if a sto­ry­teller makes a book come alive, a spe­cial con­nec­tion is made,” ex­plains Bhansali, who along with Kitab Khana book­store in Fort, Mum­bai, has or­gan­ised many fun Sun­day morn­ing book events.

They have so far set up 220 mini-li­braries across the coun­try with the help of do­na­tions and also in part­ner­ship with United Way of Mum­bai and their ‘Let’s Read’ ini­tia­tive.

They launched in­no­va­tive pro­grammes like ‘Ka­hani Tree Story Bags’ for which a range of books were cu­rated. Chan­dra Arya from Ch­ha­tola vil­lage, Naini­tal, is an avid reader. Her fam­ily owns a horse. Imag­ine her sur­prise when this Class III stu­dent of a gov­ern­ment pri­mary school came across a book called Lali

Aur Uska Ghoda. “Vil­lages are hun­gry for books,” says Arund­hati Deosthale, a trustee of the A&A Book Trust, which set up the li­brary in Chan­dra’s vil­lage.

The trust’s first ‘Read­ing Cor­ner’ came up at the Gov­ern­ment Pri­mary School, Shi­tala, in Naini­tal dis­trict in 2009. The chil­dren loved it. Since com­put­ers are yet to make in­roads into most vil­lages, books are an en­joy­able nov­elty. In 2009-10, the trust set up read­ing cor­ners in 112 pri­mary schools, mainly in Ut­tarak­hand. The num­ber went up to 128, aided by NGOs.

As N Bhaskara Rao sums it up, “To build the foun­da­tion for a knowl­edge-based so­ci­ety, the book is the only so­lu­tion.”

Can read­ing be forced and rou­tinised? I think not. Once we have made avail­able read­ing re­sources, it helps to un­der­stand a book as a space the chil­dren can choose to go to. The habit of read­ing should be sup­ported rather than forced.” Jaya Mad­ha­van Noth­ing sets a bet­ter ex­am­ple than see­ing adults read. Read out things that are in­ter­est­ing or funny or even sad. Set aside some quiet time in the day to read out to chil­dren. Let chil­dren pick out their own books.” The catch lies in iden­ti­fy­ing the kind of book that will in­ter­est chil­dren. It’s like a match­mak­ing process; you need to se­lect the right book to ig­nite the spark.” N Bhaskara Rao, BREADSo­ci­ety Deepa Bal­savar Read­ing to a child from a very early age is a fab­u­lous way to raise a reader. My chil­dren are now 12- and 10-year-old avid read­ers. I gen­tly nudge them to try dif­fer­ent au­thors, gen­res, for­mats, and broaden their read­ing pal­ette.” Natasha Sharma We set up five li­braries in Port Blair in An­daman & Ni­co­bar Is­lands for chil­dren who were liv­ing in tem­po­rary shel­ters af­ter the tsunami in 2004.” Indira Bagchi, AWICLi­braryPro­ject Neeraj Jain, Scholas­ticIn­dia Ac­cess to books at home is crit­i­cal, which leads to aca­demic suc­cess— greater than even house­hold in­come or par­ents’ ed­u­ca­tion lev­els.”


Ak­shaya Rau­taray (36) and Satabdi Mishra (34)

Tina Shankar­lal (32) and Deepak Sharma (30) have been run­ning read­ing pro­grammes in schools and col­leges in Mad­hya Pradesh since 2016

Ka­hani Tree, an in­de­pen­dent chil­dren’s book­store founded by Sangeeta Bhansali in Mum­bai, be­lieves that well-planned book events go a long way in spread­ing the read­ing cul­ture

Suzanne Singh, chair­per­son, Pratham Books Pratham Books, which has pub­lished over 2,000 books in 18 In­dian lan­guages that in­clude fic­tion, non-fic­tion and sto­ry­books on science, his­tory, math­e­mat­ics and na­ture, aims to reach 200 mil­lion chil­dren in...


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