books on bookshelf
Culture,  Kerala,  Malayalam

The Walking Library

In the hilly Mothakkara village of Kerala’s Wayanad district, a 63-year-old woman walks several kilometers every day for those who love to read but have no easy access to books

Story by: Radhamani K. P.

Read the original story in Malayalam

For as long as I can remember, reading has been one of my greatest joys. The way authors build a world through their writing and manage to capture a reader’s imagination never fails to amaze me. I believe that reading stays in our minds far longer than what we see.

silhouette of child sitting behind tree during sunset
What we read stays in our minds far longer than what we see. Photo: Aaron Burden (Unsplash)

When I was a child, I would read all kinds of stories to my father, who loved listening to them. He did not get much of an education and therefore, couldn’t read. I took it upon myself to read entire books to him. I would give him updates about events around the world by reading the news. I would even read the text on wrappers and anything with packaging delivered to our home from the grocery store! On my father’s behalf, I would write letters to our relatives and friends and then read those letters out loud so that he could check what I had written. That was perhaps how my love for reading began, and it grew as I grew older.

It was the same love that made me choose the job of a “walking librarian” at Pratibha Public Library, an offshoot of Library Movement in Kerala. The library was built in 1961 in my village Mothakkara, in the Mananthavady taluk of Kerala’s Wayanad district. This region is home to beautiful rivers, small waterfalls, farms and a wide diversity of birds and plants, and surrounded by lush green mountains.

Pratibha Library in the Mothakkara village. Photo: Kabani
Hilly terrain of Wayanad. Photo: Brian Rapsey, Positive Footprints – World Nomads

Although the library has been around for almost 60 years, people in the village – women in particular – had no easy access to books until a few years ago. Despite their love for reading, their tight schedules, busy farming lives, and the distance and time to commute to the library made it difficult for them to visit regularly to borrow books. Their reading was limited to Mangalam, Manorama and other weekly magazines.

Since 2012, when I started working at Pratibha Library, I have been delivering books to the homes of the library members six days a week. I give them two new books each time, collect them after eight days, and keep a record in the library register. I work based on the guidelines that the library council provides for book distribution and delivery.

Radhamani, the “walking library”. Photo: Brian Rapsey, Positive Footprints – World Nomads

By now, I have become familiar with the tastes of various members through continuous interaction. Every week, I look at the library’s collection of books and try to find books that would appeal to the members’ tastes. The library has over 11,000 books in the Malayalam, English and Hindi languages, and we currently have 102 members, including some senior citizens. I carry around 25 to 30 books every day – a mix of different genres – in a cloth shopping bag, so that members can select books of their choice. The cool weather in Wayanad makes it conducive for walking.

Recording details of books delivered to a member in a register. Photo: Kabani

The ardent readers of my community now spend more time with books once they reach home from work. People who work outdoors, in the fields, also take books from me while I’m on my way to their houses. Now, no longer forced to restrict their reading to weekly magazines, people have started reading books of different genres regularly. My ability to create opportunities for them to read and bring smiles to their faces as they welcome books arriving at their home gives me great pleasure.

Radhamani outside Pratibha Library, ready to start her daily walk. Photo: Kabani

All these years, I have been delivering 500-550 books a month on average. That changed with the pandemic in 2020 and the subsequent lockdown enforced to minimize its spread. I am no longer able to reach all areas as some have been declared containment zones. I am now able to deliver only 300-350 books a month. Yet, it’s been heartening to see the positive effect that reading has had on some people amidst the chaos that the pandemic brought along. Most members who were feeling stuck at home and low during the lockdown, find peace through reading the books that I deliver to their homes.

During this phase, I also started providing books to all the indigenous tribal children. It is a delight to see their excited faces when they see me with new books. Some children call me over the phone to confirm my next walk towards their houses!

Walking to remote areas to deliver books to tribal children. Photo: Brian Rapsey, Positive Footprints – World Nomads

Over time, I have developed strong bonds with all the reading members. Some give me wonderful reviews on books that they find interesting and urge me to read them. I note down the titles of those books and make sure that I take them home next time. In a way, these members create opportunities for me to nurture my passion for reading. On a member’s recommendation, I recently read a book titled ‘Aadujeevitham’ by Benyamin. It impacted me deeply, and Najeeb – one of the characters in the book – will live forever in my mind, giving me strength and motivating me not to give up but fight in adverse situations.

person picking white and red book on bookshelf
Picking books based on the taste of members. Photo: Christin Hume (Unsplash)

I love everything about my job. It gives me an opportunity to expand my worldview by having interesting conversations and book discussions every day. I love sharing books and daily life with people. My job has taught me the most important lesson of life – what you give is what you reap. I treat all the library members with affection and care, and I earn respect from all in return.

My experience as a librarian also helped me as a tourist guide, an additional role I took up in 2014. When I realized that I needed to learn more about a field that was completely new to me, I extended my love for reading to travelogues, travel books and books about different destinations across the globe. The confidence that I gained by interacting with members of the library helped me in my interactions with guests from around the world. That, in turn, helped me improve my English!

Radhamani on one of her regular walks through the village to deliver books. Photo: Kabani

Some people hesitate to take membership in our library as it costs them ₹ 25. Those who can afford the registration fee pay for themselves. There are also those who love to read but cannot afford the fee. I pay their registration fee from my earnings so that everyone with a passion for reading gets books to read.

Some members feel that I should be paid an additional amount for walking to their houses, but the excitement on the faces of readers when they see me with my books are my rewards. I feel very content that at 63 years of age, I am able to walk up to 4 kilometers every day, delivering books to people and being their “walking library”.

Read the original story in Malayalam

Meet the storyteller

Radhamani K. P.

Radhamani hails from Mothakkara village in Kerala and is a frontier campaigner for sustainable community development programs in her village. Her keen interest in interacting with people has earned her the role of an avid storyteller in community-based tourism programs. She has profound knowledge of native medicinal plants and flora and is a biodiversity conservationist in her village. Radhamani also wears the cape of a "travelling librarian", making books accessible for women and children in her village. She commutes across the village, working with cooperative banking societies to develop financial plans for families in her village. Radhamani is a familiar face in the government as the President of the Panchayat-led women society group - Kudumbashree. She heads the organic farming group 'Pournima' which promotes organic farming in her village, and is also involved with multiple industries such as the soap making unit and Ayurveda medicinal unit, incubating entrepreneurship skills at Mothakkara.

Kabani

Kabani is a social enterprise that facilitates sustainable community tourism partnerships and initiatives in southern India. It tries to ensure the socio-economic security of farming and coastal communities in the villages, offering an authentic experience to travellers and considerable benefits to host communities. Kabani's experiential tourism programs provide an opportunity to explore the lives, culture and nature of the southern Indian states.

11 Comments

  • Divya

    This story just brought a bright smile on my face. Reading is a great habit and delivering books to those who can’t afford is a great deed, that too without expecting without any return and doing it out of sheer passion. Hats off ma’am. I personally love reading, and I agree with the fact that the writer builds our imagination and we remember it for longer.

    Definitely, what you give is what you reap. And you will sure reap a lot for this selfless service that you are doing. Hoping you deliver many more books and bring happiness to lots of people.

    I would really love to meet you and accompany you on one of your journeys, so that I can witness the pure joy on the faces of the readers.
    Hope our paths cross soon.

    • Voices of Rural India

      Thank you for your comment, Divya. Happy to know that the story made you smile. Radhamani chechy works with Kabani as a tour guide besides working as a walking librarian. Hopefully, the travel scene will get back to normal soon. And when it does, you might be able book a guided tour with her. She too would be glad to meet you in person. 🙂

    • Jagan

      Hi Team,

      Glad to know that you are bringing out all the good deeds done by the rural population of India.

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  • Saumya

    One of the most Inspiring Story. Amma is epitome of kindness, Light and Delight. What she is doing is the purest of all. May her light stay with us for A really long Time.🌞🌱🌞💜🧡🧡💜🌱🦋🌟🧡🤗🧡🤗🤗💜💜🧡🌟🌼🌼🌼💚💚💚🌼🌼🌼💚💚💚🌼🌼🌼

  • Prerna

    Dear Radhamani ji (Amma),

    Your work is so inspiring. How you walk so many miles each day to make books a part of people’s lives.
    And for all the work you do, I shall pray, God do you good and serve you well as you serve others.
    May God always be with you.

    With all heart,
    Prerna.

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