Karvaan and the valley of stories

Curfews have not been able to disrupt Karvaan: A Roving Book Project’s endeavour to keep up a steady supply of books for Kashmir schools

Published - June 24, 2017 04:03 pm IST

Enjoying books at a school in Budgam district.

Enjoying books at a school in Budgam district.

A curfew can paralyse a state, not the will of its people. Ask Furkan Latif Khan about curfews, and she speaks of them as encumbrances that delay whatever it is one has set out to achieve in the Valley. For Khan, who has taken it upon herself to inundate Kashmir’s districts and villages with storybooks, a sudden curfew represents logistical chaos and a test of tenacity.

Khan, 26, is the creator of a project that involves books and crowdsourcing—variables that, when plotted on the topography of Kashmir, form a trail of books that reach every little ramshackle school in the Valley. The initiative, called Karvaan: A Roving Book Project, aims to set up libraries in every part of Kashmir.

“I started the process of crowdsourcing in early 2016, but the curfew slowed things down,” says Khan, in a phone conversation frequently interrupted by an erratic network. She is in Srinagar for the summer. “Amazon couldn’t deliver books here; everything stalled for five months or so,” she reveals. The project, which involves the use of social media platforms to send out appeals for books, was one of the two winners of the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s Social Media for Empowerment award for 2017. The award is an acknowledgement of the work of social media accounts that garner resources and support causes for development and change across South Asia. This year, there were over 162 nominees from South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Award-winning project

Karvaan: A Roving Book Project has so far collected around 1,000 books through crowdsourcing, by promoting the cause on social media alone. The project caught the attention of the jury for its unique application of social media tools to provide a steady supply of books in a volatile region. Osama Manzar, founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation who was on the jury, believes that the project brings a glimmer of peace to the Valley through the fantastic world of fables, fairytales and adventures. According to him, social media in conflict-riddled states like Jammu and Kashmir can be a vital force, for in these places “people frequently get cornered, and the only way that they can reach out is through social media”.

Khan recalls attending school in Srinagar and Baramulla. Each school had libraries but they were usually locked up. It was only later that she realised she had grown up without ever borrowing a book from a library. “The culture of borrowing and lending books did not exist, and anyway, the teachers at my schools would not have trusted students with books,” she says. “I decided that someday I would come back to create a bank of books that children could borrow from.”

Superhero:The Fabulous Adventures of Rocket Kumar and Other Indian Superheroes; Razia and her Pink Elephant; Animorphs; Small Piglet Looks for Mommy... Khan says she picked books that would fire a child’s imagination. Several collaborators have lent their resources to Karvaan. In New Delhi, Zubaan Books is a key drop point, while in Bengaluru, Khan has partnered with Maraa—Media and Arts Collective— where donors can send their books.

A brief summer ticking with unrest is all that Khan has to visit schools in Srinagar, deposit the books she has collected, and initiate a series of storytelling workshops. “I don’t want to think about all the things that can go wrong,” she says over the phone, “I’m here, I’m visiting schools, so something must have worked out right.” Optimism is mightier than the sword, even in seething Kashmir.

The writer’s need for fresh air has led her to vast expanses of stories that cannot be told through an A4 print ad or a 30-second commercial.

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