Read too much into this

Browsing for books online and getting the cheapest deal is as satisfying as plucking that last cherry left on a particularly creamy cake. Now make that — getting the cheapest book deal which, by the click of a button, donates to a good cause, too. That, you’d agree, is what having your cake and eating it too would be all about.

Keeping food-related similes aside, that is exactly what the 25 year-old Canada-based Aman Bamra is doing. While you read this, children in government schools in Mumbai, Delhi — even Uttarakhand for that matter — would have received copies of books such as Peacock and Pakoras and Curly and Straight (published by Pratham Books) thanks to book lovers who logged on to Bamra’s website, Books With Purpose (.org)

Students at a Pune-based school rejoice the arrival of storybooks thanks to Books With Purpose. Pics Courtesy/Aman Bamra

Books With Purpose works on a simple, and more importantly, self-sustainable model — you can log onto the site, browse for the book you want to buy, and the website compares the price of the selected book between three online portals — Flipkart, Landmark and Infibeam. The buyer can choose the cheapest deal and, for every three books purchased through Books With Purpose, a child in a government school gets the chance to read a copy of a colourful, illustrated children’s fiction book s/he may not have been exposed to otherwise. Seven schools, mostly from Mumbai, have received books from Bamra. More than 105 books have been distributed.

Bamra, an undergraduate Computer Science student at Michigan Technological University co-founded Books With Purpose with his senior, Jodhbir Singh, in July this year. “In March 2011, this business plan won a business plan competition at school, and I wanted to take it ahead. I’ve dropped a semester to concentrate on making this a success.

Over the last three months, 105 children across India’s government schools have received children’s fiction books through Books With Purpose,” says Bamra. Singh, who works in a Pune-based organisation, plays an advisory role while Bamra co ordinates the orders and their delivery from Canada. “We get a referral fee from the three online shopping websites, which fund the children’s books.

I largely buy the books from Pratham publishers and distribute them to children from the Teach For India foundation, but I’d like to work with other publishers, schools and children’s NGOs, too,” says Bamra, over telephone from Canada.

Bamra says he never says no to any school or organisation who approaches him to distribute storybooks to their children. It was this gesture, in fact, which recently made Bamra’s experience an overwhelmingly emotional moment. A month ago, after a consignment of storybooks, including the book, Bheem And The King, reached Umedbhai Patel English School in Malad, Manish, its primary school student began writing a retelling of the story.

“I was stunned at how good his prose is. He wrote it in four parts and everytime I finished reading one, I waited excitedly for the next,” says Bamra. The retelling can be read on the website’s Facebook page. Manish, adds Bamra, wanted to be a cricketer. “But now, after he began writing this retelling, he admits that he wouldn’t mind being a writer either. Who knows, one book can actually change a child’s life…”

It doesn’t stop there. A few weeks ago, Bamra got a call from a schoolteacher in Uttarakhand who requested him to send books to his school, too. “The way the teacher described the school’s location, I wouldn’t be incorrect in assuming that hardly anything reaches an area as remote as that. But, now, I’ll make sure my books do,’ smiles Bamra, over the telephone.

Through Books With Purpose, Bamra has also started a pilot programme wherein schools across cities can share their libraries. “A month ago, seven Mumbai schools began coordinating and sharing their libraries, which is a great step because, this way, even the schools who have not received books can benefit from Books With Purpose.” 

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