Published: 27th April 2021
Reading made 'cool': How this Kolkata teacher is running a street library out of a refrigerator
Patuli Street Library is based out of a grocery stall in Kolkata and will let you borrow a book for a month. All you have to do is write down your name, phone number and the name of the book
Students have been stuck at home throughout the past year and a large portion of this year too. They have had no friends to meet, no school to go to and no one to play with. This became the time to do something constructive and many people across the country came up with initiatives to re-introduce the digital generation to books — there have been book-reading sessions, discussions and street libraries set up at various parts of the country. But Kalidas Haldar has made reading 'cooler'. Literally. Kalidas, his wife Kumkum and their son Kingshuk have set up a street library — Patuli Street Library — inside a refrigerator in front of a local grocery store in Kolkata. Yes, their first bookshelf was a double door, discarded refrigerator. This street library will let you borrow a book for a month — all you have to do is write down your name, phone number and the name of the book. Kalidas will only gently remind you before it's your time to return the book. He aims to set up 50 such libraries in various parts of the City of Joy.
Kalidas is an English teacher at the Metropolitan Institution, Bowbazar in North Kolkata, who lives in Baishnabghata Patuli Township right off the city's southern fringe. Having seen the kind of screen addiction children are ending up with, he wanted to inculcate the love of reading into a generation that is more interested in consuming content virtually. And Kingshuk wanted to help. "My son had won around `15,000 from competitions in school and he offered the entire sum to me to kickstart the initiative," said Kalidas. "Students have been the worst sufferers this past year. Schools have been closed and they are glued to screens. Most State Board students come from humble backgrounds and the family probably has only one smartphone. While they are supposed to study with that, they are more interested in playing games or watching TikTok videos — I have seen this first-hand while conducting online classes. There are numerous sources of distraction these days. Books can be a great source of emotional support but often, kids don't get that. I felt that if I could introduce them to the books that I grew up reading, it would be great," he added.
But he needed a place to, as he puts it, "serve the students of the locality". "Finding a stall apt for this was an issue. I approached the grocery store right opposite my apartment. I wanted to put up a rack of books in his shop. I offered to pay him a token amount but he said that he would provide the space for free," he said and added, "I installed a rack of books inside and kept my double door fridge outside the shop. I began this on February 21, International Mother Language Day, with the books I had and also bought a set of 300 children's books from College Street. I had 600 books to start with but could accommodate only 500 on the shelves and in the fridge. So, I kept rotating the collection."
Setting up a library would not have served the purpose if people did not know about it. Kalidas went door-to-door to inform people about the library and also organised a cultural event. "Around 80 kids with their parents turned up. That inspired me more. I realised that if I want the kids to grow an interest in books, I need to make them come to life. While I was pondering on how to make it work, I got a call from Sukti Roy, a retired teacher who conducts storytelling sessions and who has also translated books for children, requesting to conduct a session. I also got in touch with a young singer who composes songs from poems of celebrated poets like Jibanananda Das," said Kalidas, talking about the different motivators he found. He conducted interactive art and reading sessions throughout the winter and spring mornings to raise awareness about reading.
Thanks to a Facebook post and a news clipping on a popular news daily, people started calling Kalidas to donate books. "Everyone's donation is welcome. I have also approached people who have shown an interest in the project and in helping me set up similar libraries in their neighbourhoods. There needs to be someone from the locality who is enthusiastic about the project to keep it going. It is physically not possible for me to go to every corner of the city to look after the libraries. My aim is to set up 50 of them across the city," he concluded.