Occupation: Touring librarian with Aikya Kerala Library
“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.
As told to