As a young reader, I took many journeys with books. The journeys were both with books as luggage in the physical sense and book ideas within my head, an internal luggage so to speak. I carried books to the bottom of the garden where we had seats under a mango tree; I journeyed to the garden swing, to the top-most step from where I looked up to see the Arabian sea, to my bed, to my desk at home and in school, on the bus, in the train as we travelled to my grandmother and a journey was never complete without a book.
And then there were the more important journeys within, where I travelled with people, animals, events and experiences from books that allowed me to escape, but more importantly, allowed me to think and become.
Journeys and books in a story reader’s head leads to a travelling library and, like that of a traveling circus, it includes entertainment, magic, mesmerising acts and the unabashed joy of being swallowed up into another world for some brief moments of time. So, it was a logical conclusion that my life journey would continue to include travel with books. I began a mobile library project through my organisation, Bookworm.
A travelling library, like the circus, has both show time and back stage hardships but on the whole it is a wild ride. Why do I choose to journey with books and where do I go with these printed pages of joy?
My hardest and most rewarding travel is within the bowels of Indira Nagar, Chimbel, Goa. Indira Nagar is estimated to have a population of 10,000 people who live on the margins in an organised ghetto. Families from Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and here and there live in clusters meeting on the streets for fights, labour trade and political rallies.
Children of these families now meet me to read books. We meet where we find place. From the church compound, to the tiny room of a Swami Vivekananda Anganwadi and back to the Church compound. We meet twice a week to journey with our books. We meet because we are drawn to the story that the books tell, to the magic that they bring and in that brief time we spend together, we journey together through books.
We read aloud most of the time as most of the children are unable to read. We lend books despite irreparable losses and lost books, we talk and learn about each other’s ways even though we know we come from different worlds.
So many stories have come to pass since I began this journey two years ago and so many stories still remain to be uncovered. I learn from children who have seen and experienced more violence and physical abuse than one should in a single lifetime. I learn about children who go to school for close to 6 hours every day and do not know how to read and write independently. I learn about their families, the hardships, the alcohol, the celebrations and the joy. I watch in amazement as they begin to support each other, nurturing the younger ones and holding their own with the older. I celebrate as they turn to me to remind me about promises I failed to keep, utterances I forgot about and connections my stories bring.
They discuss intimate issues about explaining to religious teachers that Bookworm is secular, that the teachers are indeed kind and that we have no hidden agenda but a love for books.
I hear about the library child who stole a candy from the shop, and why; I listen when they tell me about someone not having parents and being raised by a relative; I learn when they share that for many of them this is the first time they are learning. I smile on the inside when I hear about running out of the tuition house to come to library in time. I pay close attention to the young one who has to quickly fill pots of water before she gets to go to the library program and I celebrate when we part, knowing we will meet again.
The entertainment value of our library program rests in the close attention to read aloud time, the eagerness to tell organic stories and contribute to discussion time and the intensity with which the children write their own stories. The anticipation of the program resides in our careful planning and book selection protocol that reminds us to place carefully selected books in the way of our children. Books that we believe every childhood should have. The magic emerges from the story itself. Every session has its own learning, often unplanned, hard to anticipate but there for us to grab and run.
Our journey is looped and some days I feel that I am going around in circles. On other days, I feel I am climbing a mountain on a circular incline. I am going around but I am at a place I was not before and being afraid of heights, I am compelled to look forward and upward. When I think of my journey with books at the Chimbel site, I am reassured that the road will rise to meet me.
Sujata Noronha is an educationist. Bookworm (conceived and set up by Elaine Mendonsa and Sujata in 2005), is a place where children and families can go to further the children’s love of books. Over the years Bookworm has grown to encompass many new projects, all based around literacy and the sharing of stories and books. To know about books, how and where they travel and to support Bookworm in its journey write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org comments so far — Join the discussion