“Nataa, our school is celebrating September as Reading Month!” We ran to our grandfatherly neighbour one evening, as he sat chatting with a friend. We were very friendly with Naata, (‘grandfather’ in our local language), who enjoyed the company of the youth. A former social worker, he often told us interesting stories from his life, about books, authors, and libraries. We in turn, entertained him by recounting the fun we had in school.
“So, at last your school library cupboards will be thrown open to you,” Naata remarked, “to scatter bundles of books all around? The poor librarian!” His eyes twinkled.
“Oh no, Naata… we have to go in small groups and take one or two books and keep the rest undisturbed…,” my sister Amiya whined.
“But this time we can browse through all the shelves,” I said. “But Naata, please tell us, have the libraries really made anyone’s lives, anyone you know?”
“Yes, Naata, please…” my friend Saway cooed.
“Here is Bala, my friend,” said Naata as he introduced the person sitting next to him. “He will answer your question,” Naata smiled.
“Oh no!… you are the storyteller, you tell them,” said Bala getting up to leave.
“Ok, then, Bala…” Naata winked at his friend.
“A few days back, Bala and I were chatting,” Naata started. We all sat in attention.
“Bamili, a college student from the village dropped in. She studied in a distant city, where Bala had spent his youth.”
“I stay in Bajaj Nagar,” Bamili answered to Bala’s query.
“What! Bajaj Nagar?” Bala was all excited. Bamili and I were surprised.
“When are you going back? Do you know Anilji of the Bajaj Nagar youth association?” Bala eagerly shot out questions to Bamili, who looked puzzled.
“Bamili please, when you get back, find out about Anilji. Ask in the youth association office and the library near the park. I hope he’s still there,” Bala said anxiously.
“Ok, uncle, I will try to find out,” Bamili replied, though I was not so hopeful that she would succeed.
“Why was Bala uncle so anxious to find out this Anilji?” Amiya and Saway asked.
Naata looked around us. I knew a story was soon to unfold…
“Well dearies, Bala went to a college in the city. In those days, many textbooks were imported from England. Bala, like most students, couldn’t dream of buying them. Many students sat long hours in their college libraries, reading from the textbooks in the library. One could sit and read from early morning to late midnight!”
“Wow!” we exclaimed.
“What about those who couldn’t sit long in college libraries?” Amiya asked.
“Fortunately, the city had many small libraries serving their neighbourhood readers, run by local NGOs. These libraries not only provided free study space to students till late night, but also had book banks – they offered textbooks on loan for a whole year to needy students. All for just 10% of the cost of the books! The students could return the books after their exams.”
“Luckily for Bala, Bajaj Nagar youth association ran a library and a book bank. And it had a fine secretary: Anilji!”
“Anilji, a dynamic youth from a prominent local family, took a keen interest in the association activities. Bala, though shy, became a good friend of Anil’s. Anil ensured that Bala and his younger brother got all textbooks from the book bank – even some expensive books! Bala completed his five years in college without buying a single textbook!”
“Excellent!” I remarked.
“Soon Bala had to move away from Bajaj Nagar; he never went back. He deeply regretted that he could not thank Anilji before he left.”
“Oh…!” we chorused aloud.
“Did Bamili find Anilji?” Saway asked.
“For a few months, there was no news from Bamili. Unexpectedly, Bala got an invitation to visit the city. He rang Bamili. She assured him that she would try her best to get some news of Anilji.”
“Just before Bala started, Bamili’s call came. ‘Uncle, I’ve located Anilji! He’s still in Bajaj Nagar! Initially he was so puzzled as to why a girl from North East is ringing him!” she giggled. “Now he’s eagerly waiting for you.”
“Bala uncle must have been on top of the world?” Saway quipped.
“Bamili later told me ‘It was a really touching re-union’. The two friends warmly embraced as Bala poured out his joy of meeting his mentor after five decades and apologizing repeatedly for not keeping in touch.”
“And both thanked a beaming Bamili!”
“What a happy end – Cheers, Bamili!” we chorused.
“And the charms of a library mentor…” Naata smiled.
A reader activist who loves to be involved in spreading the joy of reading among Arunachali youth for over four decades, the author is the Coordinator of Lohit Youth Library Network, Arunachal Pradesh, a voluntary initiative to promote reading among reading-deprived. He is also Academic Advisor, RIWATCH, Roing and Advisor, RPETA, a charitable trust in Delhi, wholly devoted to supporting reading promotion activities in Arunachal. He can be reached at email@example.com.