Over 1,000 aspirants, including 62 from India, have been shortlisted for an ambitious private mission to send four men and women on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 to establish a More »
The National Digital Library will bring under its fold 100 institutes and roll out a collection of one million digitised books and journals in the first phase, according to an official.
“The first thing that
Twenty states, 90 days, 10,000 kilometres — this audacious tour plan involving two determined riders and a truckload of books is the outline of a new mission: to make India read more. The story begins in January 2014 with bibliophiles Shatabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray setting up Walking BookFairs, an independent bookstore, in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
After a chance meeting in a bookshop and several discussions on the reading habits of people and the lack of availability of books beyond urban areas, both quit their jobs in advertising and publishing to hit the road and travel to remote corners of the state with books. They first backpacked, walked, trekked and travelled by bus and auto-rickshaws to Koraput district, a mineral-rich tribal region in Odisha. They eventually bought a second-hand van and 1,000 Oriya and English books on credit before embarking on a journey within the state.
“By carrying books to various public places and displaying them on the footpath, bus stops, etc. we wanted the common man to come and have a look at them, to feel, touch and experience them,” says Mishra. The dearth of public libraries, and shops filled only with textbooks, prompted them to find a way to get stories to people who would otherwise never find them.
Having already covered 30 districts in the state and conducting activities to inspire people to read more, they devised a more ambitious plan at the end of 2015.
Read More India is a book tour to promote reading and spread the love of books all across the country. The custom-made book truck, which began its journey from Bhubaneswar on December 15, 2015, is designed to hold 4,000 books and is always driven by Mishra (Rautaray never learnt how to drive). They are the only members of Walking BookFairs and are now traversing the country with their free library, where people can browse, read for free or buy books at a 20 per cent discount. Three publishers — HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Parragon — are supporting the tour, while the truck is also carrying books from other publishers such as Speaking Tiger, Westland, Tara Books, Duckbill, Karadi Tales, etc.
All titles are in English (original and translations of regional works) and the duo has been conducting free reading sessions with thousands of schoolchildren. They also stop at different locations in the city or town and hold public book displays where people come to browse, read or buy books.
“We have been receiving so many messages from people all over the country about the tour. Many well-wishers have been suggesting that we crowdfund the tour, but we are happy that publishers are partly supporting this unique initiative, for we believe that the book industry must support bookshops. Booksellers can then reach out to more people everywhere. It is only by acting together that we can spread the love of books all around,” says Rautaray.
Their journey has so far taken them through ten states — Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, covering cities such as Nagercoil, Chennai, Auroville, Mumbai, Kanyakumari. At most of the places, such as the newly formed Telangana state, it has been a joyride, with scores of people inviting them to their cities as they follow their trail via Facebook.
However, their van did encounter countless police checkposts in Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, a hotbed of Communist guerrilla groups, and they were stopped for questioning several times. The tour is now in its eleventh state — Gujarat.
While the routes are mostly mapped out keeping in mind road connectivity in the regions, details such as places to stay the night in every location are sometimes decided at the very end. “Some kind and generous people who have read about us or are following our tour via Facebook have been in touch to host us at various places, but that doesn’t happen at all locations. So, we do land up and explore the city, display the books, then find a decent budget hotel to spend the night and move on,” says Mishra.
At some places they had trouble finding wide open spaces to park the truck and display the books, with half the roads being encroached upon by shops, houses, etc. Yet, undeterred, the books-on-wheels rides on, having found a way to reach scores of people across the country even as brick and mortar stores — some of them cultural landmarks — continue to close down due to financial unviability and the impact of e-commerce platforms.
Reading for pleasure remains an alien concept to many and the Indian education system does little to promote literary expression among students. “International schools are being built all over the country. Every day, new engineering and management colleges are coming up, but we do not have libraries, we do not have bookshops. We as a people, as a country, do not think reading books is important. Even when there are good books being published, they don’t reach beyond some city bookstores due to poor distribution channels. We have successfully alienated a whole generation of young people from reading, thinking and questioning. We as a society, as citizens, as parents, teachers and friends, have an obligation to inspire and encourage young people to read more books,” says Rautaray.
During their first few outings on the streets of Odisha, Mishra and Rautaray also realised that the unique format of their book display allowed many curious and eager readers, who may have felt intimated by bookshops, to feel at ease and connect with books. For some it was the very first time stories had travelled to them. Children in particular have found their concept very appealing and the readings they’ve done at schools remain among the most memorable experiences they’ve had so far.
A special trip Mishra and Rautaray made before the nationwide tour was to Mayurbhanj district in Odisha where they started the first Walking BookFairs Library in Bisoi Government School for children who were working as child labourers. “These 116 children have been rescued and rehabilitated by the district administration. They now go to school and all of them love stories. Walking BookFairs helped start a small library for them with a box full of story books and picture books [some of them cannot read yet],” says Mishra.
In Bhubaneswar, their book shack, which offers all books at 20 per cent discount throughout the year, has also transformed into a hotspot for authors, poets and well-known writers to host regular reading sessions. The duo relates an exciting encounter with writer Ruskin Bond who visited their van in Bhubaneswar and appreciated their initiative.
Bond is among the celebrated authors whose books are part of the tour, as are some of Mishra’s and Rautaray’s favourites. While she is reading a lot of Indian writers in translation at the moment, Rautaray swears by an all-weather friend — Albert Camus’s The Outsider.
Their tour culminates on March 15 in Bhubaneshwar, after covering the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. This nationwide tour is their way of celebrating books, reading, writers, bookshops, booksellers, libraries and publishers.
“There are so many people, especially children, who haven’t even seen a story book, let alone read one. This book tour will give people from all sections of the society a chance to explore the world of books, free of cost. We hope to inspire and encourage people everywhere to read more books and to spread the love of books far and wide,” says Mishra.
Even as the country is pushing for free internet in rural India, reading books remains a luxury limited to the cities, but even there, more convenient and less engaging pastimes are taking over. As bookstores bemoan the dying breed of book lovers, the Read More India tour is an example of not just how a new generation of entrepreneurs is building hope for the future, but also how the pleasures of reading can be brought to more people by taking the stories to them.
French literature has become increasingly popular in India. People from France had come to India even before the British and set up colonies along the coastal line. France being considered the literary hub of the world, the country had spread the essence of its literature everywhere and India was not an exception.
Recently, the Government of India has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France to conserve, develop and publicise French literature that is available at the National Library in Kolkata.
Here are some key facts about the agreement:
- Joint secretary (library) of Union Ministry of Culture Sreya Guha and president of the National Library of France Bruno Racine signed the MoU
- The initiative aims to develop digital co-operation, competency, skills training programmes between the two countries
- It will also help develop a digitised archive of manuscripts and published works of French literature.
The National Library of India is famous for hosting hundreds of rare books and manuscripts. The almost 200-year-old library boasts of its heritage and significance in the literary history of India.
Let’s us look at five interesting facts about National Library of India:
1. The National Library of India in Alipore, Kolkata is the oldest library in the world and is directed by the Department of Culture, Union Ministry of Tourism & Culture.
2. The National Library of India was established as Calcutta Public Library in 1896. The library was not set up directly by the British rulers. It ran on a proprietary basis.
3. Prior to being a library, the building at the Belvedere Estate in Alipore was the residence of the Governor of Bengal.
4. At the time of inception, the then Governor General Lord Metcalf had transferred around 4,675 books from the library of the College of Fort William to the Calcutta Public Library. These books formed the foundation of the library.
5. Any subscriber could get a membership of the library become a proprietor. Each subscription cost for Rs 300, which could also be paid in installments. However, as the amount was too expensive for the then middle-class and poor students, hardly any native could get to be a proprietor. Dwarkanath Tagore, grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, was the first Indian to become a proprietor of the library.
6. On January 30, 1903, Governor-General Lord Curzon first thought of making the library public. He joined the Imperial Library and the Calcutta Public Library to form the first Indian public library named the Imperial Library, currently known as the National Library of India.
7. The library currently holds over 2.2 million books, 86,000 maps, 3,200 manuscripts. Its reading room can accommodate around 500 people at once. The total shelf space of the library is 45 kilometre.