How a Kerala library’s ‘Padam Pootha Kaalam’ initiative has ushered in a spring of knowledge

Bapuji Smaraka Vayanasala at Perumkulam in Kollam is collecting used textbooks and distributing them among students who cannot afford to buy them.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jun 30, 2023 | 12:00 PM Updated Jun 30, 2023 | 12:00 PM

The library promoted its initiative through social media and the response has been overwhelming. (Supplied)

Lessons bloom when the old becomes the new, providing the stepping stone to a promising future of myriad opportunities.

An initiative by a library in a village nestled in a sylvan setting has opened up vistas of learning to students from poor financial backgrounds, especially those in tribal hamlets.

The initiative was launched on 26 March, about the time students finished with their annual examinations, and stacked away their textbooks.

The Bapuji Smaraka Vayanasala (Bapuji Memorial Library) at Perumkulam village in the Kollam district collected textbooks from successful candidates and distributed them among the needy students of Classes IX to XII pursuing the state syllabus.

Perumkulam’s date with books is not new. It is India’s second — and Kerala’s first — “Village of Books”. Bhilar in Maharashta’s Satara district has the distinction of being the first in the country.

Three months after the launch of the initiative — aptly called Padam Pootha Kaalam (The Flowering Season of Lessons) — the programme is a roaring success.

Besides textbooks, study guides, and other materials, too, have been pouring into the library through collection points set up at various parts of the state.

The spring of knowledge

Students seldom flip through used textbooks once they are promoted to higher classes. Textbooks that they discard become invaluable for others, especially students from tribal communities, who otherwise could not afford them.

The library has distributed books in eight schools so far. Efforts are on to complete the distribution in other schools. (Supplied)

The library has distributed books in eight schools so far. Efforts are on to complete the distribution in other schools. (Supplied)

“It is this reality that made us launch Padam Pootha Kalam,” library president Rajeev Perumkulam told South First. “Normally, the used textbooks are tossed into a corner or end up with ragpickers,” he said.

Students from Class IX onwards have to pay for the textbooks. “We decided to collect used books. As students are expected to pay for textbooks from Class IX onwards, studies usually take a backseat among tribal students,” Rajeev said.

The library realised that several students could not afford to buy books. “Without textbooks, self-study and revision of lessons get affected. It hurts their academic performances,” he added.

It was against this backdrop that the library hit upon the idea of collecting and distributing textbooks. It relied mainly on social media to coordinate its activities.

The response from netizens, so far, has been overwhelming.

“The programme is nearing completion. We received 6,176 books, including textbooks. As many as 34 schools approached us for books and we have completed the distribution of books in eight schools. Enquiries for books are still on. The book distribution in remaining schools will soon be completed,” he further said.

The schools in Kerala reopened in the first week of June.

Also read: All school textbooks now available in PDF format in AP

Grim reality

Reality hit Vijesh V hard when he took charge as the principal of the Government Higher Secondary School (GHSS) at Kissimum in the Pathanamthitta district in October 2022.

A member of the Vayanasala’s committee, Vijesh was shocked to see students without textbooks — the luckier few, seven to eight students, shared one book.

“The posting was an eye-opener.  Here (GHSS, Kissimum) all students hail from financially backward families. Not one student from classes IX to XII had textbooks. It was affecting their studies. When enquired, a similar situation prevailed in tribal schools and schools closer to tribal areas,” Vijesh told South First.

The principal said teachers often shell out money to purchase textbooks. But it is not always possible.

“The teachers, too, have financial issues. Providing money for buying textbooks every year is an additional burden for them. A change was needed and thus came the idea for Padam Pootha Kalam,” he added.

Also read: IAS officer opened book nests with own money at bus stops

Power of social media

The library promoted the idea on social media. “We announced the programme through the library’s Facebook page on March 24. The page had around 3,000 followers from various parts of the state. We requested them to spread the word through sharing the post on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other online platforms,” Vijesh explained.

District-level promoters form the backbone of the initiative. (Supplied)

District-level promoters form the backbone of the initiative. (Supplied)

The book collection commenced two days later, on 26 March. Four days later, district-level promoters were deployed to organise the drive.

“The strength of our programme is the promoters. When we started, we had promoters in all districts except Ernakulam, Wayanad, and Kannur. Later, they were appointed in these three districts also. Now we have around 50 promoters,” Vijesh said.

The promoters sent the collected books to the Vayanasala. They were sorted with the help of the National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers of Sri Vidyadhiraja Model College of Teacher Education at Vendar in Kottarakkara.

The Vayanasala has now asked its promoters in distant districts such as Palakkad, Kannur, and Kasaragod to distribute the books among the needy in those places.

The library is still getting calls from various parts of the state for books. But it has now temporarily halted collecting books

“Around 90 percent of the demand from the higher secondary students was met. But textbook distribution among students of classes IX and X has been temporarily halted as some schools have placed orders for textbooks and are awaiting them. So it will be inappropriate to distribute the collected textbooks among students of such schools,” Vijesh said.

The library stated that though the programme was meant for students in classes IX to XII, books meant for lower-primary and upper-primary students, too, were also received. They were also distributed.

Also read: How rural libraries of Karnataka have become a second home for children

Smiling faces

According to Biju Thomas, headmaster of Government Tribal LP School, Attathodu at Ranni in Pathanamthitta, the Padam Pootha Kalam initiative has
made students happy.

“They are a happier lot now,” Biju told South First. “Since ours is an LP school, the students get textbooks from the government’s distribution programme. But what they lacked was books that could enhance their creativity and instill in them an urge to read.”

“But thanks to Padam Pootha Kalam, our students are now enjoying books that entertain and educate,” Thomas said.

Jelphin R, a Class XII science student of CPM GHSS at Peerumedu in Idukki, is one such beneficiary. “I will now be able to study better and prepare notes,” he said.

For Sreelekshmi, a Class X student of GHSS, Kissimum, Padam Pootha Kalam has given her wings. “Otherwise, we don’t know if we could get our hands on the textbooks,” she said.