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  Life   More Features  22 May 2017  Maharashtra’s own Hay-on-Wye

Maharashtra’s own Hay-on-Wye

Published : May 22, 2017, 12:48 am IST
Updated : May 22, 2017, 12:48 am IST

One such illustration outside the Katha (fiction) library shows the story of the man, the monkeys and the topis.

Modelled after the village of books in England, Bhilar’s Pustakache Gaav offers bibliophiles a treasure-trove of Marathi volumes.
 Modelled after the village of books in England, Bhilar’s Pustakache Gaav offers bibliophiles a treasure-trove of Marathi volumes.

In the early morning light, Bhilar looks a lot like a sleepy town nestled in the middle of nowhere. But as the people of the small village start stirring, they don’t just open the doors to their shops and schools, but also to 25 reading rooms, each with 400 to 600 volumes on different subjects, all written in Marathi. Some of these are located in hotels, some in schools and some in the redesigned living rooms of the village residents. Signposts and intriguing graffiti set these buildings apart from the rest.

Heretofore known only for its strawberry plantations and for being a quiet neighbour to Panchgani, Bhilar was given a whole new identity as Maharashtra’s Hay-on-Wye, or Pustakache Gaav (book village). As of May 4, the village has 25 different specialised reading rooms, each with volumes on a particular theme. Genres vary from straightforward topics such as science and fiction to specialised topics like Shivaji’s history and Diwaliank (special Diwali magazines) editions from the early 1900s to now. While the villagers have had to make quite a few adjustments to their lives, most are more than happy to open up their homes for the initiative.

Grafitti on the wallGrafitti on the wall

“The initiative was taken by the Marathi Bhasha Vibhag some six months ago. This is why all the books here at the moment are in Marathi. We try to keep at least 300 books at each centre and around thirty of those books are for kids,” explains Vyankat Suryavanshi, the project assistant of Pustakache Gaav, and the overseer of the biographies reading room, which doubles as the project office. “We’ve had college students volunteering to help us with the upkeep of books in the village. Even the villagers take a lot of interest in the comings and goings of their respective reading rooms.”

One such member, Vyankat tells us, is Shilpa Sawant, who has given up two rooms of her cosy two-storey home and welcomes lovers of Vinodi Sahitya or humorous literature. “People who come to this reading room usually select light, fun books to read. Sometimes families come here to spend some time with books, but I usually direct the younger kids to the Balsahitya (children’s literature) reading rooms, of which there are two. Pu La Deshpande is the most popular author here and every other person comes here to ask for his books,” she says.

In fact, a rendition of whose artwork by the Thane-based artist Vijayraaj Bodhankar on the walls of Shilpa’s house has become quite the selfie point for tourists. “He is an amazing artist and got 60 other artists on board to paint the houses here with interesting graffiti and illustrations,” Shilpa gushes.

One such illustration outside the Katha (fiction) library shows the story of the man, the monkeys and the topis. Another is a sketch of Shivaji’s fort with books along the wall. Thara Ganpat, who owns the two-storey home with its expansive terrace, is well into her 80s. Though making a change to her lifestyle at such an advanced age hasn’t been a cakewalk, Thara has no qualms.

“I never received an education. So, I want others in the village to be more sensitised about literacy and to simply read more. This is the perfect way to do that, so I was happy to open my home for them,” she explains.

Perhaps one of the most interesting additions to the village is the Diwaliank reading room, which has hundreds of editions of the yearly magazine, which comes out during Diwali each year.

“We have over 450 volumes of the magazine here and the first one dates all the way back to 1909. We have all of the editions till 2016. We’ll add the ’17 version this year,” says Ganpat Bhilare, who has donated one of the rooms of his small single-storey house, overlooking a strawberry plantation, for the archive of magazines.  

Perhaps one of the most enthusiastic, and definitely one of the earliest supporters of the movement is Tayjaswini J Bhilare, vice-principal of the Hill Range School in Bhilar, who, along with her father, had been a part of the project since its very inception. “A village like this will hopefully not just help inculcate a reading in people, but also help propagate the Marathi language itself,” she says.

Tags: marathi, diwali, maharashtra