of S Paul’
When we moved to the UK years ago, we brought along my children’s nanny, Durga Devi, a simple, rustic woman from a small village, Sherpur, on Shimla Bypass near Dehradun. She was surprisingly composed as she absorbed the new experiences in a foreign land – a very unique opportunity for someone of her means.
Then one day she attended a fair at my children’s school. The first time I saw her eyes go wide with amazement was when she saw the huge piles of children’s books free for anyone to pick up and take home. She couldn’t believe they were free!
She had never learned to read, could barely sign her name laboriously, had thirsted for books as a child, was married off to a much older man at the age of 14, widowed with 3 children at 19, and then given up on any hope of literacy. To her, books were a luxury when food and clothes had been her entire focus for her and her family. She reacted like she had discovered a goldmine!
She started to carry home and hoard these books in the limited space in my house. I didn’t have the heart to stop her. She flipped through the pictures in delight and yearned to read them. She begged me to teach her with such innocent hope – that I gave her two half-days a week off to attend adult classes and tutored her at home along with my little ones. I discovered she has mild dyslexia. It was hard, hard work for her.
Seven years later, she can read and write and speak English. She signs documents with confidence and handles her banking alone. She devoured those children’s books with delight and fascination – Snow White, The Ugly Duckling, even Noddy books – she fell in love with them! I once found her crying over an illustrated copy of The Little Mermaid…..
It was fascinating to see an adult mind wake up like a child’s. I am proud of her achievement. But all she feels is a yearning that the children in her village, like she once was, also get access to the treasure of books – beautiful books.
Every time she went home she left behind her clothes and lugged suitcases full of hoarded books and toys for village kids. Her adult sons indulged her obsession and promised to help her realise her dream of setting up the first library for children in her village – a free library.
They have done it! In the house they built with her full earnings that she sent home, there is a front room devoted to children’s books. The neighbourhood children spend their time absorbed in them. A local teacher has volunteered to help them understand these stories.
Durga can only lug 43 kilos of books every year as per Air India or Virgin Atlantic Economy Class ticket weight limit. They are desperate for more books! The children LOVE this facility. Now very few of them are seen vagabonding or gambling in the street in front of her house – they gravitate to this porch.
This Durga Puja, Dussehra, Diwali or Christmas, please donate your children’s old books that they have outgrown to my Durga’s dream – and for these children’s future.
Storybooks, picture books, early stage readers, textbooks, dictionaries, atlases, encyclopaedias, even comic books. Please let us know where in Dehradun you want them collected from, and one of her sons will come on a weekend and pick them up. Let us take this opportunity to light up the world of some unfortunate children and adults, too.
Mobile phones to contact Bipin 9634656490 or 9412 998326.