30 homes and 30, 000 books — the village of Bhilar is attracting millennials to it as it is a paradise for bibliophiles

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Rishabh.Deb@timesgroup.com

If you love reading books, you would know how much a calm atmosphere and beautiful view adds to the reading experience. What if we told you that there was a village offering this as well as a rustic charm and plenty of strawberries while you delve deep into the world of books?

Having earned the name ‘Pustankanche Gaav’, Bhilar, a small village about 108 kms from Pune, has brought about a reading revolution, especially among those who love Marathi literature.

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“The village has 30 homes and over 30,000 Marathi books from diverse genres and sources,” shares Pravin Bhilare, the sarpanch of Bhilar, which is located close to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar.

The village, inspired by Britain’s Hayon-Wye town in Wales, threw open its homes for book readers on May 4, 2017. It was also a major attraction on World Book Day yesterday. We take you on a tour of the book village, which has attracted lakhs of tourists, all in search of books.

READING BOOKS, WITH STRAWBERRIES FOR COMPANY

An all-access, village-wide library that has over 30,000 Marathi books, this concept aims at bringing the millennial closer to the culture of Maharashtra through Marathi literature.

Pravin adds, “By introducing books into the homes and establishments of the villagers, we hope to foster positive habits of reading among locals as well as book lovers from across the state. We have several books that give the reader a peek into the history and culture of Maharashtra.”

Interestingly, tourists can visit any of these 30 homes, find a title they like and read the book, whilst enjoying strawberries plucked from the neighbouring farms. Sameer Vaidya heard about the village through social media and visited Bhilar with his family. He says he found it fascinating to watch his 15-year-old kid sit for extended periods flipping through story books and comics in the children’s literature section.

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“Youngsters are detached from the beautiful world of books,” he says, adding, “For me to watch my kid engrossed in a book was a fulfilling experience.”

From graffiti to signboards and a variety of titles, the village is keeping the habit of reading alive, feels Ashmita Deshmukh, another book lover. She shares, “When one comes here, he or she is bound to keep their smartphones aside and pick up a book. What is really endearing is that the titles available are quite progressive. We have stories from the lives of Anandibai and Gopalrao Joshi, Indira Gandhi and even books about feminism and gender studies.”

According to Sanjay Deshpande, a bookstore owner from the village, they accept a nominal deposit from the readers to ensure the books are returned and well-maintained. “There is no pressure on paying any money; it is up to the readers to decide. We also sell books,” informs Sanjay.

GOVT TO ADD BOOKS IN OTHER LANGUAGES SOON

Maharashtra’s education minister Vinod Tawde, who inaugurated the village two years ago, opines that the people of Bhilar understood the concept of creating a book village well and it made the implementation very easy for the government. “Two years on, Bhilar has become an academic destination with rare books that attract researchers too. While all books currently at the village are in Marathi, the state plans to add 20 per cent more to the collection and those books will be in Hindi and English. We also plan to organise literary events, interactions with authors and poets, and book-reading sessions soon,” shares Vinod.

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A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Last year, as many as 75 artists painted the walls of houses, temples and other destinations as a part of a three-day painting camp. They painted the walls with graphics and images of books to indicate the genres of books to readers. Pravin says that this boosted tourism in the village. “The village is now a popular tourist destination among visitors who come to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. People come here and stay in nearby resorts. We love having tourists here as it helps villagers exchange knowledge from them. Going forward, we hope to welcome more people, from diverse backgrounds and reading preferences, to the village,” he concludes.

BOOKS HAVE BROUGHT WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE TO THE VILLAGE

Today, the homes with books are easy to spot as they are marked with colourful signboards. If you are lost, pamphlets with a map and short description of each location are also available at any of the book-homes, or the office headquarters. The places where books can be found are also decorated with themed artwork on the walls. But this was not the case earlier. Youngsters from the village were dropping out from schools because of lack of resources, but today there is hope for the future.

Dadasaheb Govind, an octogenarian and a retired teacher, has a library in the village. He shares that he has seen a huge transformation in terms of bringing hope for youngsters. He says, “I used to cycle every day to all the neighbouring villages, mentoring youngsters in several government schools and regularly inspecting their work. Children had little to no resources to study then. But now, families insist that their youngsters study and read.”

The development of Bhilar into a book hub has facilitated change among the residents. Santosh Sawant, a librarian, informs that the time in not far away when Bhilar will produce doctors and engineers. “People have been exposed to the world through these books and the books have put Bhilar on the map. The population of 3000-odd people is well read too,” he adds.

Book lovers hunting for their favourite titles