A Model Library

MA young under-grad sets up a library out of his own pocket money to manage the book deficit for students in the north Kashmir periphery, reports Maleeha Sofi and Hilal Shah

An eight-year-old girl’s yearning for a book and a personal struggle for a magazine led Mubashir Mushtaq to set up the Let’s Talk Library in Kupwara’s picturesque Halmatpora village. He himself is a student but feels privileged as he studies in Srinagar’s major college.

Mushtaq is currently pursuing Bio-Chemistry (Honours) at Shri Pratap College Srinagar. His college has the best library in town. At the peak of Covid19 lockdown, he lacked access to college and fail to get even a magazine to read from the local market. That was the moment he decided to set up Let’s Talk Library.

“The incident made me wonder about the plight of students who are preparing for competitive examinations in rural areas,” Mushtaq said. “It led me to seriously think about setting up something that can help students of the village to have easy access to books.”

Sufiyan Iqbal, Mushtaq’s friend said he gauged his friend’s vision of setting up a library when an 8-year-old girl came looking for a book that she was desperate to study with someone’s help. However, like many others, Iqbal didn’t believe in his friend’s idea of opening a free-of-cost library.

With a clear vision in his mind, the idea of sharing started. Mushtaq regretted that he received a negative response from people whenever he shared his idea. “I struggled a lot initially. But I kept reminding myself that with perseverance I will start a free-of-cost library.”

By mid-2020, when Covid19 was wreaking havoc, Mushtaq had done the preliminary work. His supporters were a few friends, classmates, and teachers at his college. “They encouraged me and helped me to collect books from different sources. I reduced my personal expenses. I saved from my pocket money for the library,” Mushtaq said.

Iqbal says that his thinking changed towards his friend’s project when students started thronging the library for getting books issued in their name.

Initially it was just his father who supported Mushtaq but when the venture started to prosper other family members started appreciating his work. Like other families, his family too wanted him to have a settled life with adequate income. “That thinking changed after I started receiving appreciation and recognition for my work,” Mushtaq said.

Even though 30-odd people have registered themselves with the library in the past two months, Mushtaq said that he doesn’t require building a market because he doesn’t see it as a business.

Initially, he tried to find a place for starting a reading room but due to a shortage of funds, he had to contend with a small space. “I welcome people who want to read here if they find this small place comfortable.”

His yearly expenses including the rent for the shop are Rs 15000. “I went to people asking for contributing books for my library. Initially, only some contributed but now I receive calls from people of various districts who want to contribute their books,” Mushtaq adds.

He is hopeful that there will be more footfall in the coming months. “I knew that I can establish a library but never expected such a good response from people. Many people laughed at me. But I am happy that now around 30 students can read what they want.”

Mushtaq, now a passionate social activist, says that helping people gives him satisfaction.  “It is better to start building a good society from a young age.”

Currently, Let’s Talk Library has 1600 books which include academic books, novels, Islamic literature, newspapers, and magazines. The focus is on keeping those books in stock that the students cannot easily get their hands on in the markets around.

Mubashir Mushtaq, a student of SP College, Srinagar, has set up a library in a rented shop in his Kupwara village. KL Image: Hilal Shah

Mushtaq’s aim isn’t just to help students in academics but also to inculcate reading habits in the populace. “I want senior citizens to come to the library and read instead of sitting around all day.”

With the rising drug menace in mind, Mushtaq believes that youth can be saved from falling prey to it if they are engaged in activities like book reading. As per the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences Kashmir, 2.8 per cent of the population of the Valley have been substance abusers.

Mushtaq now aims to open a Let’s Talk’ Library in more villages. “I want to keep books available at door steps of students. I want to provide free study material to students who cannot afford private coaching.”

Mushtaq said he chose a rural setting over an urban one because the former usually have less access to books. Kupwara, which has an average literacy rate of 75.60 per cent (Census 2011), still has a huge deficit ratio in terms of the libraries per capita population.

“There are many passionate students in the village who want to study but have no access to quality study material,” Mushtaq said.

The surveys, Mushtaq added indicate that Kupwara lags behind other districts in terms of opportunities in the field of education. “I want Kupwara youth to be inclined towards studying.”

Mushtaq also dreams of putting an end to child labour by starting a campaign in every village against it. “People should dream big because only then one can bring a change.”

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