It was the well-stocked library at her school that exposed Nhina Begum to good children’s literature and inspired her to start her own collection. Today, the grade 8 student has a vibrant home library, with a small collection of books, gathered lovingly from different sources over time. Her favourite books are displayed on a string beside her window.
“Never did I realise the importance of having books at home than when Covid hit us and we could not access the library,” says Nhina, who lives in Kadechur village in Yadgir district, Karnataka. “Books at home meant that reading could happen no matter the situation outside.”
The Tata Trusts’ Parag initiative has set up a hundred vibrant and active school libraries in Yadgir district where most families are either engaged in agriculture or depended on wage labour. Parag’s library programme is four years old, and over the years, through these open-access libraries, and activities such as storytelling and community events, Parag has inspired a love of reading in many children.
Stories have always given us solace, helped us escape our everyday troubles, connected us to characters like us, and introduced us to protagonists quite unlike us. Stories make us happy, sad, reflective and empathetic. Never have children needed the power of stories more than when the lockdown occurred, and they could not go out to play or roam the neighbourhood to meet their friends. When all they were hearing about was Covid-19 and its clear and present dangers, it is to books they turned for companionship and solace.
And it was this very situation that turned Nhina into a librarian of sorts, lending her books to children in the neighbourhood, while also ensuring Covid safety guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks. “When the lockdown happened, we didn’t get a chance to go to school,” says Chinmaya. “So, my friends and I visited Nhina’s home to read books. She also lets us borrow books from her home library collection,” she added.
Nhina is not the only one. In her village alone, 24 other children have set up home libraries, giving access to friends and neighbours. The living rooms and windows of many homes in Yadgir offer mute testimony to this increased love for reading – colourful strings display books, while craft paper and small decorative items add a touch of colour and whimsy. “The library programme has inspired many children to set up small libraries at home,” says Mayur Pujari, programme officer (Education) at Kalike, which implements the library programme.
The long-term engagement with Parag has ensured that reading is a habit that sticks. Children see libraries as places where they can interact with each other, sharing stories and experiences. “During the lockdown, home libraries took a life of their own. Reading and exchanging books received a boost,” says Mr Pujari.