Coming from a remote village in Uttarakhand, it was with great difficulty that Himanshu Kafaltia cracked the civil service exams. But once he succeeded, he aims to make easier for the next generation by setting up libraries in every village.
Picture this. It’s a pleasant morning in the quaint little village of Tusrar in Uttarakhand. The year is 2004, and a teenager is readying for a long school day ahead. His mother has packed a warm lunch for him. But then, ahead of him is a 4 km trek along the mountainous paths to reach school.
For Himanshu Kafaltia, the standing joke of a lot of urban Indians on how their parents had to walk miles to reach school was his reality, even in 2004.
But even during those days, Himanshu would dream of becoming an IAS officer one day. And for that, he knew he would have to move to a city, owing to the unavailability of suitable coaching spaces and books in his village. He moved to Delhi for further education but promised himself he would try to make it easier for the next generation.
The 18-year-old boy who dared to dream big is the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Karnaprayag in Uttarakhand today, having joined the Provincial Civil Service in 2019.
The magic of books and reading
And he kept his promise and undertook the task of setting up a library in every village in Uttarakhand, Himanshu says. He established his first library in November 2020 in Tanakpur. “We set up 16 more subsequently in nearby villages — including Banbasa, Gyankheda, Ucholigoth, Kaligunth, Sukhidhang, Salli, Taliyabaanj, Budam, Danda, Fagpur, Chhinigoth, Tusrar and Nai,” he says.
“I had to struggle a lot to reach my current position. I hope to make it easier for the upcoming generations by establishing more such libraries. We include competitive exam books in the libraries so that the children don’t have to travel to cities to avail them,” he tells The Better India. “My motive is to provide exposure to children even in the remotest areas of the state.”
What kept him going, he says, is the way the kids reacted to his initiative. “They are all excited and also welcoming. It is a huge thing for them that an SDM and other officers are visiting their small village.”
“Our visits make the children feel more confident. These libraries are a ray of hope for them, more than anything else. Since I too come from a very rural background, I can relate to these kids on a deeper level,” he adds.
He continues, “We also provide the students with career guidance. My wife is an IRS officer, and initially, the two of us would visit the libraries and give seminars and guidance lectures on any career path they wanted to choose. Later we started inviting other experts to speak. We organise general knowledge and maths tests on Sundays at times to better their performance.”
And the results have started showing. So far, 38 students from the villages have cleared different competitive exams, Himanshu informs. “These kids come back and donate books to the libraries, as a way of expressing their gratitude.”
It takes a village to set up a library
The process of establishing the libraries is low-cost and efficient, says Himanshu. “The space is mostly donated by the Gram Panchayat or by individuals. Most of the books are second-hand ones procured from scrap dealers, but the new editions are all newly purchased.”
“We started a campaign where we asked the villagers to donate two books each. This was hugely successful. We got so many books that the cost of buying books is almost negligible,” he adds.
The maintenance of the libraries was a challenge for Himanshu initially, but he soon figured out an innovative solution.
“We ask the villagers for donations to maintain the library, just like how it’s done for religious festivities like RamLila or a community event. This is done mainly to instil a sense of responsibility in them to keep the libraries clean and safe.”
He says they also formed Pathak Club or reader’s club, and today, the villagers take care of the libraries themselves. “The youth in these villages is so eager to take up the responsibility that they consider it an opportunity. It is very surprising to me how successful these clubs have been.”
“They clean the libraries every day and even decorate them during festivals. It is heartwarming to see. If a fan or a light needs repair in the library, they collect money and fix it themselves,” he informs.
The libraries are open 24 hours a day. Students come to the library as early as 5 am and sometimes stay till late into the night.
“We noticed that it was not just school-going kids who visit the libraries but many others as well, who come in just to read. Initially, we brought in just academic books for competitive exams. Now we have fiction as well so that a habit of reading is inculcated in the villagers,” he says.
As the number of libraries grew, so did the popularity of the initiative.
“It has started to feel like a movement now, Himanshu says. “Many personalities like Sahitya Akademi Award winner Devendra Mewari, Hem Pant [author of Myor Pahad Meri Pacchyan], and Kumar Kailash have visited the libraries, which gives the children a great boost of confidence.”
The SDM has no plans of stopping. There are two more libraries in the pipeline, and he hopes to keep going forward.
“I aim to set up a library in every village and every small town of the state. With the advent of social media, reading habit is declining. I want to revive it. Children in these rural areas are prone to drug addiction etc if they are not given the right direction at the right time. I believe that no kid with a book in their hand can ever do wrong,” he says.
Himanshu’s mobile phone has been flooded with requests from various other villages asking him to establish a library there. If you wish to help him or donate books, you can reach him on his Facebook page or 7455929785.
Edited by Asha Prakash