“I started working in 2007, the year the scheme for distributing books to women in the neighbourhood was introduced. I had done odd jobs earlier including the cleaning job at the Aikya Kerala Reading Room and Library, which I continue to do. I am part of the Kudumbasree initiative too.
Among the purposes of the scheme is to draw women away from television to books. In these years I have seen women who were reluctant initially become big on reading. I start in the afternoon and tour the region for the day. Over six days in the week I cover my allotted area which extends from Chakorathukulam to West Hill. Each day I visit around 25 houses and each member gets two books a week. The books are given for a monthly fee of Rs. 20 and an admission fee of Rs. 35. Picking up membership was not easy in the beginning. Over time, I built a rapport with the readers. I would casually talk to their neighbours too which helped me expand the readership base.
Since I have been working for a few years now, I know the reading preferences of the people. I make a selection the evening before and then carry those books to houses. Some go in for light reads, some pick stuff for their children and some are serious readers. A popular choice is Thakazhi’s Kayar and Uroob’s Ummachu. When Kamala Das died, her novels were much sought after. Those like M.T. and C. Radhakrishnan are constant favourites. A contemporary work much in demand is Benyamin’s Aadujeevitham. We have just one copy in the library and people fight over it. The moment I am able to lay my hands on it, I take it to my readers, circulate it among as many as possible asking all to read quickly and return. I also make it a point to introduce readers to new books. For instance, I have taken spiritual books to people who are unwell. Quite a few of them, including aged women, are big on crime thrillers.
I used to read quite a bit earlier, but I hardly get the time now. But the people I take books to keep me abreast of stories. If a book is particularly good, they would talk to me about it and I urge them to give me an outline. This helps me recommend the book to others. On days when I have to venture a little far, I have customers who tell me to take an auto rickshaw and they pay the fare. So I receive considerable warmth from people. This job has given me a lot of friendships. I end up sharing people’s sorrow and joy. On instances I have seen them waiting for me. When I fell sick, they pitched in emotionally and financially too.
For the work I do, I get Rs. 1,200 a month. Since I carry the books around, at times my shoulders ache, so too my legs. But over years, my customers have become family.”
(A column on the men and women who make Kozhikode what it is.)