The man is Partha Kayal, a schoolteacher who spends his free time operating an informal mobile library out of his backpack for the children of Kalagachia. He has been regularly visiting this village in South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, for the past nine months. Every Saturday, he sets off at around 6.30 am from Kolkata and arrives in Kalagachia after a two-hour journey (with a change of bus en route). Every Saturday, some 20 youngsters wait to receive his help in learning to read or listen to the variety of tall tales, adventure stories and natural world lessons he has prepared for them. His programme complements what the children learn in school. The books they do not have access to, they get from Kayal.
The session today is a follow-up to the books on birds they have been reading for the past few weeks.
The books he brings to Kalagachia come from a wide variety of genres. Some are about the natural world, some have messages, others are fairy tales and fables.
They are mostly given by friends or sourced from old workplaces, while some are from his own collection.
Kayal peppers the sessions with activities and games. The children are expected to write about or draw out three things that were discussed on each Saturday. Then there’s the bakko (word) game where each child says a word. And each word has to make sense when added to the previous one, ending in a legible sentence. The one they play today ends with sentences like “Aaj — aami — haantey — jaabo. Haantey— jai — maachh — kintey.” (Today I will go to the haat. I go to the haat to buy fish). “We string these together in the end. The idea is to try to create stories,” says Kayal.
One of the biggest book collection drives that the State has witnessed in recent times, started from a Facebook group titled simply ‘Book collection’, floated soon after the incident. The news of the book burning and collection drive went viral on social networks. Many came forward offering substantial number of books from their personal collections. The idea of a ‘Pusthakavandi’ was thus born, with a few students and working professionals agreeing to take around a vehicle to collect books from across the State.
“We formed volunteer groups in each district to coordinate the collection activities. One vehicle started from Thiruvananthapuram and collected books from the southern districts, while a few others started from Kasaragod.
The people of the locality have already collected more than 3,000 books for us. With the Pusthakavandi, we will now have more than 10,000 books,” says K.T. Musthafa, the library secretary.
I’ve noticed similar excitement in kids when I used to lend them colourful @prathambooks during my voluntary teaching stint in Pune.
— Poonam Sharma (@_alps) April 17, 2016