"We need to put the rural kid back on the map"

How and why did you think of setting up MelJol’s peti library scheme?
Some children will love reading and some will never get used to it or like it and we shouldn’t be in the business of forcing books down their throats. If child rights mean anything — and MelJol works in the sphere of child rights — then the freedom to what one wants with one’s leisure should also be included in those rights. But what of the child who might like to read but never sees any books other than the school books? It is for her and for him that we want to start a peti library in every school.

And yes, some schools have libraries, some school timetables even mention library period. But most of the time, the Math teacher or the English teacher or the Any-Subject-At-All teacher takes over the period. In order to keep the books from getting damaged, the teachers don’t allow the children to get familiar with the books, never mind taking them home. These peti libraries will belong to kids as community property.

Schoolchildren from Gadchiroli hold their Aflatoon Pass Books. A character created by MelJol, Aflatoon is a fireball from outer space. It is a friend to children on Earth who teaches only positive facts, informs Rewati Bhagwat, Executive Director, MelJol 

Your note on Facebook mentions that children will make the rules and run the library — will grown-ups assist them to oversee operations or in case of fire fighting?
The peti libraries will be part of the MelJol time in the school and there’s always a teacher around to make sure that things don’t get out of hand. But the teacher won’t make the rules; just ensure that they are made.

What are some of the logistical challenges you faced to get this up and running? Also, once it’s begun, what do you have to bear in mind, to sustain and to ensure that things run smoothly?
Oh, we’ve had so many logistical problems. An American NGO wanted to give us a hundred thousand books, all in English. Although, much help that would be to first-generation learners in Gadchiroli or Chandrapur. And where would we have stored them, even if we could have farmed them out? Our petis do have some English books but the majority has to be in the language children relax into; or what’s the fun of reading?

How can the average citizen help?
Please support us. We’re only piloting this project. We’d like to take it nationwide, to all the nine states in which we function. Please send money. Please send gently-used Marathi books.
Is this project meant for rural Maharashtra or do you plan to introduce it in Mumbai and other urban centres of the state?
I’m not saying that the Municipal School in a city is some kind of educational paradise but if you compare it to the rural school, you might think it is. I have translated with Ajit Wakde, Heramb Kulkarni’s Shaala Aahe Shikshan Naahi: a clear-eyed expose of Maharashtra’s schools (it is still waiting to be published. It is so difficult to be patient with some publishers). So in my understanding of it, city children are well-served,
compared to rural children. I think we need to put the rural kid back on the map first and then when we’re sure we’ve served his / her needs, head back to the city.

Donate for the meljol peti library
> 50 books in a MelJol tin trunk > Children to make the rules
> Children to run the library
> Children to read and discover the joy of books
> Don’t offer used books, unless you have good, gently-used books in Marathi

How to donate?
SEND BOOKS TO Sricharann VS, MelJol, room no 47, second floor, Gilder Lane Municipal School, Mumbai Central; CALL 9820319931; LOG ON TO 

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