A room without books is like a body without a soul said Cicero over two thousand years ago. Belonging to a generation where books were possibly our only real entertainment I readily second that. Then over the years, books played second fiddle to the new entertainment star the TV and then slowly third fiddle till they were relegated to the back row of the orchestra as an instrument barely played let alone heard.
I must admit that I never stopped reading though I must also confess that I was not able to instill this passion in others in my family. I lost the battle to the ever growing presence of the idiot box and its various courtesans - namely the remote control, the VCR, VCD and all else. Book reading for many just seemed a chore and a bore.
When project why began and before I was initiated to the reality of the school scenario in India, I had wanted pwhy to be a place where children could come after school and spend quality time. One of the things I wanted in pwhy was a library with an abundance of books so that children could be made aware of the magic of the written words. Like Skinner I too believed that we shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading, as therein lay true education. But soon enough the dream of pwhy being a children centre replete with books, toys and games took a back seat as we were faced with alarming drop out rates, failing in school and the uncompromising abhorrence of parents to creative pursuits.
Reality moulded us into a school support centre where creativity had scant place. Books were only those taught in school and the few that found their way sat quietly in some dark corner, too few to make their presence felt. Even when we felt the need to have books - for the smaller kids at least - the cost itself ensured that there was never a book per child. The dream I once had seemed farther then ever.
Then one day a few months back I received an email from Willy of the Omprakash Foundation. It was I must confess mind boggling as it talked of sending tens of thousands of books to several projects in India and sought my help. And though the task was daunting and way off our beat, the fact that it concerned books made me accept readily. I guess that if it had been clothes or something else, I would have beaten a hasty retreat!
What followed was a journey into uncharted territory, one that was sometimes quite harrowing as we battled administrative and other blocks. But one did not give up and last week the consignment reached Delhi. Thanks heaven our friends from Omprakash Foundation were there too and afer some minor and sometimes amusing hurdles we at project why got not one, or ten or even hundred but twenty thousand books!
Though many still lie in boxes waiting for space, each of our centres now has books, either on a shelf when space permits or in a trunk and the children are for the first time in their lives discovering the magic of holding a book. It has been pure magic as they dive onto the trunks and retrieve books then go about flipping pages. The excitement is palpable whatever the age as they share what they see or even fight for a particular one. The teachers too are excited and planning new activities around they newly acquired treasure.
I watched all this with a sense of satisfaction and some glee. Somehow a long forgotten and almost lost dream seemed once again possible. The presence of so many books had suddenly made my dream of a children centre possible. It was time to fine tune the idea.
Ther soon will be a weekly library period in the time table. I remembered Willy telling me that in his school there was a moment called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). Perhaps we too will have that at pwhy some day.
Some time back a friend sent me link about a new library fad whereby you borrowed a person not a book. Somehow it did not seem exciting to me. I also remember how moved I had been by Fahrenheit 451 the brilliant Truffaut film about a world without books. For me books remain a very important part of my life and high up on the list of my favourite things.
I hope that now they can also become part of the lives of the project why children.