Library on a Cart

Masti ki Pathshala is a unique initiative by a social activist in Kolkata, West Bengal, to get children to read books again. A cart loaded with 300 books in English, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu trundles into Rajabazar where children from nearly 400 families enjoy its benefits, free of cost.

Update: 2023-03-30 10:25 GMT

 Children between the ages of eight and 16 years are allowed to borrow the books to take home. All photos by Gurvinder Singh

Kolkata, West Bengal

Mohammad Hussain pedals hard as he carries his precious burden on a cart attached to his cycle into Rajabazar in North Kolkata. There is a sudden scurry of children as they wait for the cart to pull to a stop. Some clamber on even before it has come to a halt.

This is the impatiently-awaited ‘Masti ki Pathshala’ (School of Fun) that trundles in here thrice a week, filled with books. Iron shelves hold about 300 odd books on various subjects and the children can’t get enough of it.

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Despite her quite busy life filled with school and private tutors, Mubshara Parveen, a class four student who lives in Rajabazar, never misses her date with the library. “I have read the books of APJ Abdul Kalam and of Rabindranath Tagore,” she said as she rummaged the shelves for some more reading material.

Also Read: Rural libraries in Kishanganj, Bihar spread education among poor children

The crowd and the noise of Rajabazar with buses rumbling past, people selling their wares at the top of their voices and people everywhere, does not dampen her enthusiasm or of her friends who are busily turning pages.

The library has around 300 books in English, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu. 

The Masti ki Pathshala was started by social activist Shahina Javed, founder of Roshni, a non-profit working on social issues in the city, on December 28 last year, to get children reading books again. Roshni has employed Hussain to carry the books on his cycle cart to Rajabazar.

“It is difficult for the children living here to access libraries. There is also the whole bevy of rules and regulations before becoming members of libraries that is difficult for them,” Shahina Javed, told Gaon Connection. And children from nearly 400 families are enjoying its benefits, free of cost.

Also Read: Step aside, textbooks. Here comes the Big Book.

Turning over new leaves

The library has around 300 books in English, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu. Children between the ages of eight and 16 years are allowed to borrow the books to take home. Shahina Javed also acts as the librarian as she writes down the names of the children and the books they are borrowing.

The books, to the tune of Rs 20, 000 have been donated by Kalidas Haldar, a government school teacher in Bowbazar, Kolkata. When Shahina got in touch with Haldar and explained about what she wanted to do, he liked what he heard.

“We aim to start 100 more such libraries across the state to attract children into reading,” Haldar told Gaon Connection.

“During the pandemic we even started a library in a refrigerator that we kept out in the streets. We stuffed the fridge with books and delivered them to people in the neighbourhood. I have already funded 11 libraries from my salary,” Haldar said.

Despite the chaos in the streets, the students don't lose focus from studying.

The Masti Ki Pathshala visits Rajabazar thrice a week and on each day it remains stationed in one place for two to three hours. “It’s completely free, and we also organise story telling sessions on Sundays,” Shahina said.

“We love to come here, sit with our friends and read together,” Alia Noor, a class five student, told Gaon Connection.

Also Read: Dream School: Where children from a slum in Lucknow, are encouraged to dream big

The parental are pleased

Shama Parveen is the mother of 16-year-old Shaishta Parveen, and she couldn’t be happier. “Earlier, my daughter didn’t read at all, but now she collects books from here and reads them when she is free. Such efforts are commendable and should be encouraged as it would inculcate reading habits among children and keep them away from television and cell phones,” Shama Parveen, told Gaon Connection.

While most people are very appreciative like Shama Parveen about the initiative, there are those who feel a brick and mortar room would be a better setting for a library. “There is too much chaos and noise out in the open, with the shopkeepers doing business and the vehicles plying non stop. It must be difficult for the children to focus on their books,” Sajid Ansari, a 35-year-old inhabitant of Rajabazar, told Gaon Connection.

Shahina begged to differ saying that some of the younger children would find it difficult to go to the library. “This initiative is to dispel any reluctance they may have towards reading books and get them into the reading habit,” she said, as a few more children jumped off the cart, and made themselves comfortable on the parked vehicles in the vicinity to read.

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