Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday launched India’s first village of books in Bhilar, situated between the popular tourist destinations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani in the Mahabaleshwar taluka of Satara district.
Seeking to promote the culture of reading, ‘Pustakanche Gaon’ (village of books) is the brainchild of state Culture Minister Vinod Tawade and is based on the model being run in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. Tawade proposed the concept two years ago and villagers in Bhilar, which the government claims has the necessary tourism infrastructure, are now hoping to increase their income through the project.
“Tourism is not unknown to the village and it has all the necessary infrastructure. The first phase will see 15,000 Marathi books being placed in 25 establishments,” said Tawade. Places near popular tourist spots were selected to ensure enough footfall. The 25 spots that have been turned into free libraries include two temples, two schools, 10 lodges, with the rest being homes of individuals.
Sashikant Bhilare, whose residence will house 650 books, said the villagers hope this initiative will help them increase their income. “Tourist footfall will certainly increase because of this. Our village has 25-30 hotels and lodges and we hope other tourism-related businesses will also thrive,” he said.
Strawberry farming has traditionally been the main source of income for the villagers in Bhilar, which has more than 800 acres of berry farms. “We hope that the tourist influx will help us discover a new market for our produce,” Bhilare said.
While the books will be lent free of cost, the villagers are ready to provide refreshments at a price. Setting up of bed and breakfast units are also in the pipeline. Bhilare said they have been imparted training in basic hospitality etiquettes and record keeping for maintaining the free libraries. “The government also gave us free almirahs, table, chair and colourful beach umbrellas,” he said .
Signboards with details of the collections have been put up across the village. A group of artists had travelled from Pune and Mumbai to the village to touch up the project.
While Marathi books under 25 different categories like Sant Sahitya, children’s books, hagiography and women’s writing have been selected for the libraries in the first phase, Tawade said they have plans to introduce English and Hindi books in the second phase of the project. “The books that were selected are rare and not easily available. We will also display books by Jnanpith authors,” he said.
Books worth Rs 25-30 lakh have been selected in the first phase. Bhilare said around 700 audiobooks have also been placed in his house. “This will help the visually challenged,” he said.
Children’s books have been kept in the zilla parishad school. Swapna Kondhalkar, a student of Class VII, said, “We might end up spending more time in school thanks to this.”
“It is a matter of pride for us that our tiny village has earned its place in the world,” said Sunita Wadkar, a homemaker whose residence houses the folk literature collection.
Urban dwellers who visit the village feel that the idea should be replicated in cities too. “This is an excellent concept. We should have something on similar lines in the cities,” said Sayali Jamorikar and Gaurav Kad, who had travelled from Pune.
Laxmi Vasant Bhilare (75), a homemaker, said, “Since the time they stacked books here, it has become a great way to spend my evenings. I see many old people, who usually chat in their free time, reading these days.”
(With inputs from Dipti Singh)
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