“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.”
While the protagonist of this story, Srijana Subba, described herself as a teacher, poet, and writer, I would describe her as a bibliophile whose mission is to ensure every child in her village has a book.
Born and raised in Nagari tea-estate in Darjeeling, in this exclusive interview with The Better India, Srijana shares her passion for reading and how it has translated into a library for the children in her village.
A teacher at Pokhriabong Girls Higher Secondary School, Srijana is very inspiring.
“My parents were both primary school teachers and a large part of my fascination with books began because of them,” she begins.
She recalls coming across “a rather big book” when she was in UKG. Her mother told her that it was the dictionary and belonged to her grandfather. When she taught little Srijana to use the dictionary, the first word she chanced upon was ‘butterfly’.
“Thus began my tryst with words and books,” she says.
Srijana’s father would often tell her bedtime tales, while her mother bought her many second-hand books. All these early memories come back to her when I asked her about when she first started reading.
The Book Thief – the library with a difference
Being surrounded by books, Srijana has collected a sizeable collection. To put them to good use, she started a library, which she calls ‘The Book Thief’.
“Right after I sold my car, the empty garage was beckoning to me, and that was where I decided to set up the library. It is informal and devoid of any support from the government or other organisation,” she says.
Her decision to keep it away from any affiliation is also rather interesting. She says, “Being associated with any organisation comes with its own set of norms and rules. I wanted a space where none of that existed, and therefore it was just envisioned as open space.”
She has built the library from her collection as well as donations from friends and well-wishers.
It houses more than 500 books that cater to all genres.
“Children of all ages come to the library. I also host reading events there every once in a while,” she says.
Books – bringing about a change
With immense pride, Srijana speaks about how the library is also helping bring about a change in the attitude of the children.
“A few days ago, I was going through the register and was amazed at how methodically the children have been maintaining it. The name of the book, the date on which it was borrowed, and the name of the borrower have all been entered. They are learning so much from being here,” she says.
3 tips for parents to inculcate the habit of reading in children
1. Bedtime stories
One of the best ways to inculcate a reading habit in children is by reading to them. Srijana urges parents to invest some time each night in reading to their little ones. “It made a huge difference to my children, and I am sure it will to others too,” she says.
2. Easy access to books
It is important for children to access books, whether it is their classrooms or at home, keep age-appropriate books for them at easily accessible locations.
3. Listen to their tales
The more you read to them, the better their stories will get. Do make the time to sit and listen to all the stories that children come up with. You will be amazed at their sense of imagination.
Children – bringing joy
“The youngest member at the library was a three-year-old! But this winter, I had a 1.5-year-old come in with his sister!
All he did was sit with her and look at the pictures in a book. It’s never too early to start reading,” she says with a chuckle.
Srijana is thrilled at the response to the library, and it keeps her motivated. “I do not expect anything in return but just wish to continue doing the work for the betterment of the society,” she concludes.
Here’s hoping that every village in India has a library like ‘The Book Thief’ and a bibliophile like Srijana backing it.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)