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More power to Mumbai's libraries

Fiona FernandezIf there is one city that stands out for its public enterprise despite the odds, Mumbai wins, hands down. Reiterating the observation, this journalist came across one such initiative that has chugged along quietly, making an imprint, and impacting the lives and minds of our city’s Gen Next.

MCubed library, tucked away in a leafy lane near Bandra Gymkhana, might come across as just another reading space for kids in the tony suburb. But what it has managed to do in over two years’ time is to create a small, yet bright band of young minds who’ve taken to reading with a vengeance.

There’s plenty more to smile about diverse workshops are conducted here, with much thought and vision. The reading area itself is a delightful, relaxed space propped with comfy floor cushions, vibrant walls, and a well-documented, fascinating mix of titles for children and young adults. Started by three friends with a common vision Vibha Kamat, Sonal Bimal and Vaishali Shinde, in September 2011, one can sense the intent in every corner of this space.

With a section for adults as well and reading rooms (that often double up as study areas for kids), it’s a godsend in a city that’s starved for such needs. The cheery air is refreshing, as giggles and chatter among these tiny members of the library can be heard all around, and where Dahl, Dickens and Bond seem to have found a new set of fans.

However, what remains the biggest challenge for libraries such as these is to ensure these kids don’t give up this habit, and are able to step out of their schedules, their Playstations, essentially their “busy” lives to make time to read. Simple, right? Not quite. As Sonal shared her concerns, “By the time our kids reach 12 and 13 years, they stop returning to the library. Piano classes, dance classes, Maths tuitions the list is endless, and the biggest loser amid these packed itineraries is reading. It slips away from the scheme of things in a child’s daily or weekly plan.”

It probably is the same story that is faced by most of Mumbai’s libraries. With diminishing numbers overall, young adult members have gone extinct in such spaces. The few reading halls in the city that have survived need all our support. Parents cannot afford to side-step this learning tool for their kids that, sadly, often tends to get phased out in the name of aspiration and ambition. Needless to say, it’s an uncomfortable trend.

Libraries, along with bookstores remain the much needed lifelines for a city’s intellectual, free-thinking spirit and identity. But, change is possible, and it’s up to our citizens to take up this cause. Why not enroll your child into a lending library? And, if there isn’t one around why not start reading clubs in your housing societies and neighbourhoods? It’s possible, and there are plenty of citizen-backed examples around us to prove this can make a difference, however minute. On that positive, expectant note, here’s wishing every Mumbaiite happy, reader-friendly 2014!

The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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