On June 19, Perumkulam, a village in Kerala’s Kollam district, was declared a Pusthaka Gramam (village of books) by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The announcement made on June 19, National Reading Day, makes it Kerala’s first such village. At the heart of the announcement is its library, Bapuji Smaraka Vayanasala.
Writer MT Vasudevan Nair first, informally, described the village thus in June 2020. Inspiration for it came from Bhilar, in Maharashtra’s Satara district, which was declared Pustakanch Gaav (village of books) in 2017. Bhilar has specially created spaces with books to encourage reading. The office-bearers of Bapuji Smaraka Vayanasala were determined to replicate it in their village of 5,000-odd people. It is a dream fulfilled for them.
“In 2017, before Bhilar became a ‘village of books,’ we had placed our first public bookcase as an experiment at Radio Junction in our village,” says V Vijesh, school teacher and secretary of the library. It was formed by a group of youth, in 1948, in memory of Mahatma Gandhi. It got its own building in 1957, which was renovated in 2016 with donations collected from members of the library and locals. Writer M Mukundan is its patron.
Last year, inspired by US-based Little Free Library — a book sharing movement through bookcases placed in public spaces — the library placed 11 more bookcases at various locations across the village. Each with 30 or so books primarily for children, a few for grown-ups and newspapers. It is aimed at getting more children to read. Since the Bapuji Library is registered with the Little Free Library, it shows up in their map of ‘little libraries’.
Recognition as Kerala’s first ‘village of books’ is a huge achievement for this library and its 600 plus members. The campaign for the status started with an official request to the State Government in November 2020. Based on the recommendation of the State Library Council and inputs from the Taluk Library Council (Kottarakkara), the request was approved and Perumkulam makes history as Kerala’s first ‘village of books’.
The library has been part of many philanthropic activities including being at the forefront of writing lessons in notebooks for students who had lost their school books in the floods of 2018.
Everyone in the village, especially those connected with the library, is elated. “We are all very excited. This is the result of our teamwork where members of clubs such as the youth club, of senior citizens, film lovers, farmers, children and Mukundan fans among others have been part of the process.”
Bookcases have been decorated with garlands and flowers, as has the three-storey library building. A Muntingia tree ( panjasaraa pazham ) will be planted to commemorate the event. “We are calling it aksharaa maram (tree of letters). The tree gives shade and bears fruit too. Like reading it is comforting and of great value,” Vijesh says.