A library? Here in the forests and wilderness of Idukki district? This is a low literacy spot in Kerala, India’s most literate state. There are just 25 families in this hamlet of the state’s first elected tribal village council. Anyone else wanting to borrow a book from here would have to trek a long way through dense forest. Would they, really?
“Well, yes,” says P.V. Chinnathambi, 73, Tea Vendor, Sports Club Organizer and Librarian. “They do.” His little shop — selling tea, ‘mixture,’ biscuits, matches and other provisions – sits at the hilly crossroads of Edamalakudi. This is Kerala’s remotest panchayat, where just one adivasi group, the Muthavans, resides. Getting there had meant an 18-km walk from Pettimudi near Munnar. Reaching Chinnathambi’s tea-shop library meant even more walking.
“Chinnathambi,” I ask, puzzled. “I’ve had the tea. I see the provisions. Where the heck is your library?” He flashes his striking smile and takes us inside the small structure. From a darkened corner, he retrieves two large jute bags – the kind that can carry 25 kg of rice or more. In the bags are 160 books, his full inventory. These he lays out carefully on a mat, as he does every day during the library’s working hours.
There may be only 25 families in this hamlet, but there were 37 books borrowed in 2013. That’s close to a fourth of the total stock of 160 – a decent lending ratio.