Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mohtarma visits the library

Preeta finally visited the library after hearing about it for a year. On my request, she has penned down her experience there. This is the second guest-post on the blog, not counting the student writing posts, and as usual, the writing is much better than what is normally written on this blog. Hopefully, some of it will rub off on my writing too.

---- Mohtarma (Preeta) Speaks -----------------------

I was visiting Bombay in my first vacation in over a year, and I had this library on the list of places I had to visit. I had heard about it since the days of its inception – from stories of painting the walls to acquiring bookshelves. Finally, in January, I came around to visiting it. I had a couple of hours to myself before the children started coming in, which I spent browsing the books and revisiting the books that I had read when I was a kid like the Malory Towers books and the story about the enormous turnip. Before I realized it, the children started streaming in – some of them directly from school, without even having changed out of their uniforms or having lunch.

The curiosity about the new visitor, yours truly, spread like wildfire. “Nayi didi aayi hai”, the word went around. Soon, they took it upon themselves to show me around – where the library passes were kept, the balcony where they likes to read, where the fiction books were kept, where the science books were kept, and where the games were kept. The sense of pride and ownership they felt about this place was amazing.

They asked me about myself, and were eager to talk about their lives. When they heard that I was from Delhi, they even asked me about the jhadu party and how they won the elections.

My conversations with these kids were refreshingly honest – it took me a while to register how differently I was used to acting in a profession where every word is weighed to meet a certain purpose. When they asked me why I was visiting, I told them, “I love reading, and Prachur bhaiya told me about your library”. They told me about their favourite stories, or the homework assignment that they were working on and gossip about who got scolded in class for what mischief.

I read with some of the kids – watching their expressions change as they slowly moved from word to word. They took up books to satiate a curiosity, and not out of compulsion. To see them inspired by stories like Malala, to be scared of gruffalos, to be excited about the history of different countries reminded me of my own reasons why I enjoyed reading. Some of them played games. They involved me in their games, and they showed me how to play. Their acts of spontaneous kindness and unguarded friendships made me feel completely at home.

These were extremely smart, sensitive and impressionable children. They had a childhood very different from what I, or most people I know, had. And still, I could see in them the same excitement that I feel in turning the page of a book. Between long school hours, tuitions and work, the tiny room above the Mahalakshmi dairy in Kamraj Nagar was to these kids an alternative universe. A small space, and window of time, where the possibilities are endless. Everybody deserves that.