A Reading Room 

A woman in Jammu sets up a library on her property to encourage students to read and gradually it is emerging a model for societies where families lack enough of space or the situation for the students to study, reports Umar Mukhtar

The Reading Room in Jammu’s Bhathindi locality. It is a novel concept that gives students something that they lack otherwise, an environment to study. KL Image: Special arrangement

Albert Einstein once said: “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”

Uzma Abbas, a young law postgraduate is providing this address to the readers at Bathandi in Jammu. She has opened a library for those who want to study without any interference and want to have a reading environment.

Abbas hails from a small hamlet at Soaf Shali in Anantnag.. She has done her schooling in her own village. Later she studied law at the Dogra Law College in Jammu. In 2016, she completed her LLM, received a gold medal for scoring the first position, married in Jammu, and settled there.

Near her home at Bathandi was a multi-story structure, a hereditary property of her in-laws. A year after her marriage, she came up with an idea of opening up a library on the top floor of the building.

“It was during our examinations that I along with a few friends used to go there and have discussions. I was always thinking that there should be some space to sit where we can have discussions,” Abbas said.

So, finally, in 2017, she started work on her dream project.

Uzma Abbas, a lawyer, who is behind the innovative Reading Room initiative.

The Library  

This Library is not a typical one where there are shelves full of books but rather a reading room where Abbas provides students with a chair, table, and ambience for reading. Apart from the furniture, the students have access to free WiFi, water cooler, a free of cost photostat and round the clock electricity. Also, a portion of the floor is kept as a prayer room. There is also a separate prayer room attached to the library. A playground is also available for the students.

“Students need to refresh themselves in order to focus on their studies. This is not a normal playground but we keep it strictly open for just one hour for a student,” Abbas said.

The students also get meals free of cost there. “I have been a student myself, I know how hard is it for a student who is preparing for some examination to get up and prepare meals in between. So, I have kept the meals here free of cost,” she said.

A student can also have noodles or coffee there but has to pay for that.

“Taste is payable but need is not payable. We cook food for almost 30 students every day here,” Abbas said.

In 2017, when Abbas opened the library, it could accommodate around 80 students. “The initial response from the students was modest as there was no concept of a place like this in our society. It was totally a new thing to a place like Bathandi,” Abbas said. “But with time as the word spread the students kept coming”.

Abbas had to enhance the seating capacity and the place can now accommodate around 200 students.

“Right now there are only 100 students enrolled to ensure the Covid SOP’s are being followed properly.”

A student avails of this facility at the rate of Rs 26 a day.  “My sole aim is to provide students with the best reading ambience and not to earn from it. This gives me inner satisfaction to see students studying and working hard.”

Abbas entertains even those students in the library who cannot pay Rs 26 rupees a day. “A guy who is enrolled here in the library can bring other two guys who face financial constraints. They can avail the facility here.”

Abbas says that it is not now Bathandi specific but students who are putting up in the Jammu city come to this place and study there. “There are also students from Kashmir valley and Pirpanjal region who come here.”

For Abbas seeing students leaving the library and achieving their goals gives her satisfaction. Also, when she sees girl students leaving the place after completing their studies, and their parents are waiting for them, it is a ”proud moment” for her.

“The library is located in an area where mostly the middle class or poor people are living, so somehow I feel I am giving something to the society,” said Abbas.

She is currently pursuing her PhD in Law at Jammu University.

The building has a library on its top floor and a school in the basement, a bank on the first floor, and an online exam centre on its second floor.

But the execution of Abbas’ idea has had its own roadblocks. Initially, she did not get a good response even from her family.

“It took me almost four months to convince my husband about this idea,” she said. “But even he took his own time in supporting my endeavour”.

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