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How a community library in Mumbai dependent on generosity and goodwill is coping with the pandemic

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In E book Uncle and Me, authored by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, nine-year-old Yasmin Kader borrows a e-book daily from E book Uncle, a retired schoolteacher who runs a free lending library on the road nook. When E book Uncle is compelled to close store as a result of he can’t afford the allow anymore, Yasmin solicits the assistance of her pals to deliver the library again.

Whereas Yasmin did have the choice of rallying for the library to re-open, the younger members of MCubed Library in Mumbai might do little when the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March led to its imminent closure because the nationwide lockdown was subsequently imposed.

“We obtained so many cellphone calls from each youngsters and oldsters throughout the lockdown, inquiring once we would re-open,” stated Reeta Gupta, who has been managing the library since 2017, from behind her masks. “Youngsters instructed me they missed coming to the library, that they had been longing to satisfy their pals – it was all very overwhelming.”

Whereas the cellphone calls continued unabated, the love for studying couldn’t be quashed. “As soon as the phase-wise ‘state unlock’ started, we determined to re-open the library in July – with security measures in place – even when it was for simply two hours each morning,” Gupta stated. “For a complete month earlier than re-opening, we acquired the area cleaned, each e-book was disinfected.”

Early days

Situated in a leafy lane close to D’Monte Park within the suburb of Bandra, MCubed Library turned 9 on September 30. Initially established as a library for youngsters aged upto 16, it started stocking books for adults from 2012. Whereas constructing a neighborhood library the place each youngster would have entry was a long-awaited dream of Vibha Kamat’s, a 55-year-old French trainer from the neighbourhood, MCubed’s beginnings had been nearly fortuitous.

It was a visit to California in the summertime of 2004 that sparked Kamat’s imaginative and prescient. “My nephew Neel, then six years previous, had managed to learn over 160 books in two months,” she instructed me. “Yearly his native library would encourage the youngsters to pledge to learn a sure variety of books throughout their trip. This acquired me pondering – why couldn’t now we have extra youngsters like Neel in India? Why was the concept of a neighborhood library, one which may very well be accessible by all, and the place one might simply stroll to, not explored?”

Again in Mumbai, Kamat started scouting for locations to arrange a library, however the plan didn’t materialise instantly. “The locations I noticed had been largely previous homes in Bandra; most of them had been locked up and unoccupied, and in such circumstances, tenancy is at all times an issue,” she stated. “On certainly one of my morning walks in 2011, I got here throughout the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal area which housed a public library. It was in a shambles – a lone man sitting on the entrance together with his legs propped up on the desk, just a few dusty cabinets, books in a state of disrepair, and a bunch of newspapers strewn round.

“The one signal of every day exercise was when an previous woman, a sure Mrs D’Souza, would drop by to learn the papers. I then contacted the authorities and so they had been keen to let loose the area. The one caveat – we had been to refurbish it and run it on our personal, on a totally voluntary foundation. Whereas the Brihanmumbai Municipal Company owns the area, we don’t obtain any cash from them.”

Kamat, together with two of her pals – Vaishali Shinde, a catastrophe administration skilled who labored with NGOs, and Sonal Bimal, an attire marketing consultant – took a leap of religion. In addition they gathered in a position help from keen and like-minded folks.

Come one, come all

In June 2011, Kamat drafted a letter which she circulated amongst her small group of pals, requesting for donations by way of books in addition to financial assist. The phrase slowly unfold, and the response was overwhelming, in methods Kamat had by no means imagined.

“Our group of readers and well-wishers simply opened their hearts – they gave us not solely books but in addition furnishings, cabinets, a pc and printer,” Kamat instructed me. Donations poured in from all around the nation, and from faraway London too. One in all her pals acquired them the whole set of Asterix comics, and one other provided assist to arrange the area.

“Earlier than the pandemic, we additionally had youngsters coming in to assist prepare the books or cowl them, after which we might give them a certificates as a method to respect their effort,” stated Kamat. “An architect-friend, Rinka D’Monte, designed the lamps that adorn the library. The chaise lounge and cabinets got here from some pals. Jennifer and Saeed Mirza – additionally shut pals – donated what’s now the librarian’s desk.”

MCubed has managed to domesticate a symbiotic relationship with the neighbourhood. Its premises are used as a examine centre by the underprivileged youngsters of the Andrean Social Service Centre, with tuitions for high-school college students performed by lecturers from the neighborhood who supply their time and repair freed from value. A studying room is open to all, members and non-members.

The membership charges have remained unchanged since 2011. Whereas the Galaxy, Solar, and Moon memberships are paid fashions, the Comet membership is a blessing in disguise for youngsters from a modest background. “As an illustration, if you need your driver’s youngster to enrol, you may grow to be a sponsor for that youngster, like a guardian,” defined Gupta. “As a guardian, one doesn’t pay any price, it’s solely in order that we will contact you in case a e-book is misplaced or if we wish to perceive why the kid just isn’t turning up on the library.”

Volunteers have been one of many bastions of the library because it opened its doorways. Veena Marthandam, an aged lady who used to handle the now-shuttered Danai bookshop in Khar, helps out at MCubed in each means potential. After her retirement, she started to volunteer with the library, to assist classify books. She additionally teaches English to youngsters from the Andrean Social Service group. “Veena is indispensible to the library,” Kamat instructed me. Whereas the youngsters from the group have painted the Warli drawings on the pillars of the rooms, a playful mural on the reception was made by one more “buddy of the library”.

“None of us is skilled in library science, so to talk, and therefore we needed to outsource the method of establishing a web based software program for our catalogue, one that may be intuitive and user-friendly, and permit for frequent modifications,” stated Kamat.

Charles de Souza, a neighborhood resident with a deep curiosity in libraries got here on board, providing to design the software program with out charging a rupee. “The truth is, once we re-opened in July throughout the lockdown, a number of alterations needed to be made to the system because the price for members was waived for the interval the library was shut,” Gupta instructed me. “Charles willingly helped us out with all of it.”

Suresh Kare of Indoco Treatments needed to know the way he may very well be of assist. “We requested him if he might donate a small quantity in the direction of the acquisition of a projector in order that we might have movie screenings,” stated Kamat. “He not solely donated the projector however a display and a DVD participant as effectively! We had been completely overwhelmed by the gesture.”

Earlier than the pandemic struck, MCubed used to host month-to-month film screenings, individually for youngsters and adults. “It’s a distinct expertise to look at a movie with your pals, perched comfortably on cushions and mats,” Gupta stated. “Members had been inspired to deliver their pals alongside as effectively.”

A crucible of discovery

Initially the library accepted all of the books it obtained. Since there have been some funds from donations, the library managers requested their respective households and pals for the names of books that they had loved whereas rising up. “We even have books which can be steeped within the concepts of the neighbourhood and instant group, like one thing attention-grabbing about Bandra,” stated Kamat.

It appeared proper to have the most recent award-winning books too, to satisfy the demand for Booker-nominated titles or the JCB Prize winner, for example. “We repeatedly ask our members in regards to the books they’d wish to learn, and relying upon their response, we buy these titles,” Kamat added.

Earlier than the pandemic hit, the library carried out fairly effectively financially. “Now we have two librarians, Philomena and Oliver, and two assistant librarians – who work in shifts – an individual to scrub the area, a gardener, and myself,” stated Gupta. Since a big chunk of the books are obtained as donations, Kamat goes via every of them to determine if it may be saved on the library. The assistant librarian then assesses the e-book for its situation. The books are colour-coded and categorised age-wise, then additional categorised into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, reference books and so forth.

The library is house to nearly 20,000 publications – books for youngsters and adults, together with magazines and comics, in English, Hindi and Marathi. One can browse the cabinets for hours – Hans Christian Andersen results in Shel Silverstein with Arvind Krishna Mehrotra someplace in between. There are titles by Anthony Horowitz, Amrita Pritam, Bertolt Brecht, Daya Pawar and Kishori Amonkar in between.

There are problems with Sanctuary journal, a stack of the quintessential yellow backbone belonging to Nationwide Geographic, an envious set of previous editions of Granta, image books on colors and shapes, and a big Oxford English Dictionary. There’s Pu La Deshpande, Sohaila Abdulali, Atul Gawande, Girish Karnad, Katie Bagli and Bhisham Sahni, and dailies and periodicals are up to date repeatedly.

Whereas a group of readers would undoubtedly thrive within the midst of such a various, mottled assortment, MCubed goes past the ambit of studying, making an attempt to nurture a way of discovery and curiosity amongst youngsters. Previous to the lockdown, the library used to conduct a variety of workshops and storytelling classes.

“Since we’ve by no means actually marketed, one of many methods to make extra folks conscious of the library was via phrase of mouth, and this might be met with a lot success once we hosted puppet-shows, and read-aloud classes, invited authors and poets for talks, and even held classes that repel the concern of arithmetic,” stated Gupta. “We ship out emails to our members, who’re then free to inform different folks. Some workshops may need a nominal price, and whereas we do give choice to members, we don’t refuse anyone.” stated Gupta. For every workshop, just a few seats are reserved for these from a modest background, who can be part of with out paying a price.

Present of backbone

With the pandemic displaying little indicators of abating quickly, will probably be some time earlier than such interactive programmes are resumed. There is no such thing as a doubt that it’s a shared setting that ignites a younger thoughts’s creativeness – the place fables of prehistoric giants and chimeric creatures are narrated, rhymes on furred and feathered pals are learn aloud, and tales of timber that speak and frogs that fly are exchanged.

Furthermore, tales the place characters which can be anthropomorphised are enacted – the sort a baby can search enjoyment of and study empathy from. The flurry of exercise coming to a standstill, nevertheless, hasn’t deterred Kamat and Gupta. “One of many methods we attempt to preserve our group of younger readers engaged is thru storytelling classes held each Tuesday by way of Zoom,” stated Gupta. “The moms take turns to inform tales, and all the children tune in.”

The primary few weeks of the lockdown had been mired in apprehension. Gupta stated, “We needed to rapidly discover methods to remain related with our members, and preserve them related with one another.” With no entry to the library till July, studying habits had begun to change. Most readers pivoted in the direction of e-books and audiobooks, some joined on-line e-book golf equipment, placing new friendships within the cut price, and a few lastly acquired right down to studying their ever-increasing, untouched stacks of books hoarded through the years.

The library continued its on-line engagement with Thursday Treats – sending out a poem each week to its members over e-mail. The poem – often an uplifting one – could be accompanied by a brief write-up and an evaluation. “We additionally had Naseeruddin Shah contributing a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, together with a proof, in order that the youngsters might perceive the unique Urdu verse,” Kamat instructed me. For kids too shy to hitch video calls, this proved to be a salve.

Tightrope stroll

After I visited the library on a weekday afternoon in November, it was quiet save for the whirring of the fan and Philomena D’Souza, the librarian, patiently answering queries from members over the cellphone. The area is inviting even earlier than you set foot – areca palm and champa flowers replenish the compound, animated pop-up collectible figurines dot the colorful partitions on the entrance. Step by step, a gentle stream of members trickles in.

What would have been an in any other case unhurried hour or extra spent looking at leisure, deciding which books to take house, and within the course of, working into pals from the neighbourhood, is now considerably altered. They adhere to new laws – watchful of the inexperienced crosses on the ground to keep up distance, exchanging well mannered smiles from behind masks. As MCubed presently discourages youngsters under the age of ten years from visiting, mother and father make a fast sprint to select up books for his or her children.

The reopening of the library raised each hopes and hackles. Whereas members couldn’t wait to return and borrow books, they needed to err on the aspect of warning. Some started requesting that the library stay open within the evenings as effectively, so operations had been prolonged from two hours to 6. “Moreover, commonplace working procedures from public well being advisories and the ward workplace can be amended every so often, so one has to waft,” stated Kamat.

After I requested her in regards to the financially challenges, she stated warily, “There was positively a stoop once we re-opened, however we’ve picked up slowly. One in all our employees members fell sick final week and since we didn’t wish to take any dangers, we acquired him examined and shut the library for just a few days. Furthermore, these are unsure instances, and therefore additionally troublesome for us to strategy folks for donations. All people’s been hit so far as funds are involved.”

The pandemic, nevertheless, hasn’t dissuaded folks from donating books. “We did obtain just a few requests however needed to politely flip them down as we presently are unable to handle the disinfection course of for an entire new lot of books,” defined Kamat.

To minimise contact between the members and the employees, the library has arrange a drop-box the place members can name out numbers of the books to be returned, and ask for the books they wish to borrow. Whereas they do have the choice of looking, all of the titles are catalogued on the library’s web site. “The librarian, with the assistance of the assistant can have them prepared, so the members simply have to gather their stack,” Gupta instructed me.

The library has additionally dissuaded these above 65 from visiting. “Now we have many members who’re previous and dwell alone so we had been toying with the concept of sending books to them by way of a supply agent,” stated Gupta. “In the event that they dwell shut by, our assistant librarian can merely go drop them off.”

Do the much less lucky members of society preserve returning to the library now? This can be a battle that Kamat remains to be preventing. “Let me be sincere, it’s one thing I’m but to determine,” she stated. “I might slightly give them an opportunity many times to return in and browse as an alternative of compelling them.”

Age no bar

MCubed can also be the place friendships are strengthened and help networks are constructed. For senior residents, it’s a means to stave off isolation and loneliness, work together with these from different age teams, or volunteer and really feel helpful. For these seeking to fill unstructured time, it’s a sturdy group of suitable people.

Again in 1999, Bandra residents Ernest Fernandes and Neela D’Souza got here collectively to type the Final Sunday of the Month group for these over the age of 18. The 2 octogenarians choose a subject and start a dialogue round it. Whereas totally different venues in Bandra hosted the gatherings initially, these conversations have been held at MCubed for the previous few years.

“We’re pondering of some extra concepts to succeed in out to the bigger group,” Kamat stated. “One in all my pals texted me how, in Scandinavia, individuals who have gone via making an attempt phases of their lives share their experiences with others as a way to maintain their spirits up throughout powerful instances.”

For a library that had humble, hopeful beginnings, MCubed has been at each the giving and receiving ends of capacious bounteousness. Mentioned Kamat, “An unlimited quantity of goodwill and care has gone into making and constructing the library. This can be very heartwarming – it cures you of any form of cynicism that one may need in these instances, reaffirming your religion in folks. Pals and strangers have been very spontaneous with their generosity, and unexpectedly so, even once we didn’t ask them for assist!”

This series of articles on the impression of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.

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