Mumbai: Maharashtra prides itself as a state with a rich legacy of intellectuals, freedom fighters and social reformers. On Thursday, the state will take a big step towards commemorating its eclectic inheritance when chief minister Devendra Fadnavis inaugurates India’s first ‘village of books’ at Bhilar in Satara district, about 260km from Mumbai.
An initiative of the Rajya Marathi Parishad (State Council for Marathi), a government body, and residents of Bhilar, the concept is modelled on Hay-on-Wye, the world famous ‘town of books’ in Wales.
But Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Maharashtra’s minister for education and culture Vinod Tawde, who is driving the project, said the Bhilar experiment is firmly located in Maharashtrian culture and ethos rather than those of the muddy Welsh town that has become a global tourist destination. Tawde said he had announced the project on 27 February 2015, which is ‘Marathi Bhasha Divas’ (Marathi Language Day).
“Though it is modelled on Hay-on-Wye, we have taken care to contextualise Bhilar as Maharashtra’s book village by incorporating elements of the best literary, cultural, and intellectual traditions of Maharashtra. The idea is a visit to Bhilar should prove to be an experience worth treasuring for students, book lovers, writers, tourists, and people at large," Tawde said.
Before he became minister, Tawde, on one of his visits to the UK, saw Hay-on-Wye and was fascinated by the concept. He discussed it with some reputed bibliophiles and editors in Maharashtra and proposed setting up a similar community in the state. But Tawde and the State Council for Marathi’s manager for this project Vinay Mavlankar insist that the Bhilar experiment is “qualitatively different" from that of the Welsh town.
“In Hay-on-Wye the concept is driven by bookstores and book sellers. But in Bhilar, it is an initiative being promoted and implemented by the natives, Maharashtra government, and State Council for Marathi," Mavlankar said. He says the Bhilar model is community-driven as some locals have offered their homes to put up books.
“We have identified 25 locations in Bhilar to exhibit around 15,000 books in Marathi. These locations include residences, public places, temples, and schools, and each site will have 400 to 450 books from around 25 literary themes," Mavlankar said. The village natives and some 75 painters from an NGO have creatively enlivened these 25 sites with ambient paintings.
While the timings would be decided later, these books will be open to people throughout the year entirely free of charge. “Books will be available to those who want to read. They are free to pick up the books of their choice and the only condition is that they put them back. There will be reading rooms, places to sit and read, and many more initiatives to promote the culture of reading," Tawde said. The government is providing the paraphernalia like shelves, tables, chairs, and bean bags for readers to lounge about and relish books.
Apart from books, there will be literary discussions, exhibitions, reading and writing workshops, book publication events, and poetry reading sessions in Bhilar throughout the year. Beginning with 15,000 Marathi books, the organisers plan to add Hindi and English books to the collection. A special addition would be a gallery of books in Marathi that have won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi awards and the Jnanpith award presented by Bharatiya Jnanpith. There would be a permanent exhibition featuring the works of 50 top writers and scholars from Maharashtra.
Bhilar, with a population of nearly 3,000 and close to the tourist destinations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, is famous for its strawberry farms. “We wanted to locate this concept in a place which is already frequented by tourists. Bhilar is situated on the road connecting Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, and it is also famous for its strawberry plantations. We are keen to see Bhilar become an important location on the tourist map," Tawde said.
Priya Gurav, a resident of Bhilar and teacher at the local Hill Range High School, is helping the organisers in categorizing books in their respective disciplines and putting them up for display. “My school has a library and the organizers sought our help in grouping the books in different genres," Gurav says.