Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
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On A Mission To Build A Library In Every Village In Kashmir’s Kupwara

Mubashir Mushtaq runs a library in Helmatpora village in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. The books range from competitive exams to fiction and self-help books, with Rich Dad Poor Dad an d1984 being some of the readers’ favourites.

Mubhashir Mushtaq and the 'Let's Talk Library' that he set up in a Kupwara village in 2019
Mubhashir Mushtaq and the 'Let's Talk Library' that he set up in a Kupwara village in 2019 Photo Credit: Naseer Ganai

A narrow asphalt road lined with willow trees, buzzing cicadas and a few men amid vast paddy farmlands leads to Let’s Talk Library, a single-storey structure at the foothills of Kumbkadi Mountain, not far from the Line of Control (LoC), at Helmatpora village in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.

A wooden door opens to the library where students of the border district crammed into a small reading room to read and prepare for competitive examinations. Many students have shown interest in reading novels and poetry.

In 2019, Mubashir Mushtaq, 22, started the library. He called it it Let’s Talk Library. It’s set up in a 14x10 room, with over 2,000 books, mostly related to competitive exams including UPSC and NEET.

“Most of the rural kids are shy and don’t talk about their career plans. It’s an attempt to bring students together and talk about their interests and goals. That’s why it’s named Let’s Talk Library,” said Mushtaq.

Mubashir got books for competitive examinations like NEET and UPSC from different sources. He has travelled all across Kashmir Valley meeting people who wanted to donate costly books required for preparation for the NEET, JRF, and other competitive exams. For the past one and a half years, he has been collecting books from different people after sharing the concept of establishing small libraries in the villages of the frontier Kupwara districts.

Once done with the books about competitive exams, Mubashir bought novels and self-help books. The first self-help book he bought was Rich Dad Poor Dad and after that he bought Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell.

Almost all booksellers in Kashmir say these books sell in large numbers.

Rich Dad Poor Dad is one of the most popular self-help books. Written by Robert Kiyosaki, a renowned investor, the book talks about how people can gain finical knowledge and live a life without worrying about money.

1984, a novel by Orwell, was published in 1949 as a warning against totalitarianism. The book’s title and many of its concepts, such as Big Brother and the Thought Police, are instantly recognised and understood across the world.

“Most of the customers of these books are college students and school children. I am puzzled over their popularity. I have seen students who buy Rich Dad Poor Dad, they also purchase 1984,” says Sheikh Ejaz Ahmad, owner of Gulsion books, one of the prominent bookshops in Kashmir Valley.

The Best Seller Books, opposite Biscoe School in Srinagar, often organises sale of fiction as well as non-fiction books and children's story books at very low cost. The owner of the bookshop says people mostly read fiction, self-help, and serious non-fiction books.

The owner of Best Seller Books says he purchases books for his shop from Delhi at lower prices to make books affordable for the general public. He announces regular sales of books at lower prices. 

He says, “If a book is about Rs 10,000, on our sale days we sell them around Rs 1,000.”

Orwell’s 1984 is a rage in Kashmir along with Animal Farm, he says, adding “We have sold thousands of books of George Orwell in our shop alone. I think Animal Farm has an edge over 1984. College and school-going students read it most.”

He further says Rich Dad Poor Dad is an equally popular book in Kashmir.

At Helmatpora in Kupwara, Mubashir says students ask for books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad and 1984 as everyone seems to be reading them. He says people in the village had a perception that he opened a book shop rather than a library and they would ask for stationary and school books.

“The concept is still new but it is slowly picking up and I have the ambition to establish these small libraries in every village in Kupwara,” says Mubashir.

Over the years, literacy level has increased in Kashmir and also in frontier district of Kupwara. 

“But students are facing the problem of not having books available. Some students drop out of school for want of books. Here we give books for reading and at the same time encourage students to do reading in our library even though we have small space,” says Mubashir, adding that book reading culture is growing in the Valley as there is an appetite among people to read books.

Mubashir says when he discussed the idea of establishing small libraries in the villages, his parents started laughing about it. Since he established the first library at Helmatpora, students have started borrowing books and perceptions of people have started changing. He says around 25 students of the village were first to borrow books from his library. 

“They are preparing for NEET and were not in a position to books and the library came to their help,” he adds.

Mubashir has kept books in the library that usually coaching centres in Kashmir ask students to study for the competitive exams. In his library, there are costly books on modern economics. Such books are not usually available in book shops in Kupwara. He has visited each village in Kupwara. He has been in Keran, Karana, and other far-off villages of the district to explore the idea of establishing a chain of small libraries in the villages. He says Let Us Talk Library at Helmatpora is just beginning. 

“We are going to have these libraries in every village,” declared Mubhashir.

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