There was a time when there was no library, government or private, in the Damalbari area of Bihar’s Kishanganj district. Local people had no idea what a library meant or looked like. Now, it has a full-fledged library with hundreds of books, including children’s literature. The Fatima Sheikh Library came up in Damalbari last year, thanks to a handful of enthusiastic youth who wanted youngsters to develop a reading habit.
Saquib Ahmed, 27, one of the youth and a resident of Kishanganj, says, “A handful of youth would often sit together and talk about literature, but we didn’t have books. One day I visited a local bookshop and asked for a shayari book. I had expected something on Ghalib, Mir or Faiz Ahmad Faiz, but all the seller could give us a Hindi book titled Jeeja-saali ki shayari, a booklet filled with couplets with sexual innuendoes. I was shocked to see that people had no knowledge of literary books. I was equally shocked to know that there is no library in Kishanganj. Then I decided to open a library in the district.”
But it didn’t happen immediately. A college drop-out, Saquib had to move to Delhi for a job. He came back in 2019 and joined a local news portal, Main Media. But he was constantly thinking about the library. He left the job in 2020 and started a movement to establish a library. He also formed the Seemanchal Library Foundation. But money was a challenge. “Despite this, we started the Fatima Sheikh Library in January 2021 in a thatched structure,” Saquib says.
The second library, the Savitribai Phule Library, came into being in June 2021 and the third library in the name of Rukaiya Sakhawat was established in September last year. Meanwhile, he came in contact with lyricist Varun Grover, who provided him help. Saquib also got public funding, which helped in buying books and constructing a permanent building for the Fatima Sheikh library.
There are around 4,000 books in these three libraries, which include literature, biographies, children’s story books, painting books, etc. “We will make available some school books as well so that underprivileged children get them to read. We have also decided we will not keep books of any religion,” Saquib adds. There is promising attendance in these libraries. Fatima Sheikh Library has a daily footfall of 70-80 children, whereas around 35 children come daily to the Rukaiya Sakhawat Library.
The Seemanchal Library Foundation has plans to open libraries at every panchayat in Kishanganj and a central library in Kishanganj town. “We have a population of around 20 lakh in Kishanganj but no libraries. People have no access to books. The reading habit is poor here, so we want to change this scenario. We want people to love books,” says Saquib. Apart from opening public libraries, the youth are also organising book exhibitions in villages.
(This appeared in the print edition as "The Book Club")
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