Deep inside the forests of Edamalakkudy is hidden a surprise for the occasional traveller. Here functions Akshara, a tea stall which doubles up as a library, housing works such as Randamoozham, Silapathikaram and most titles of popular Malayalam authors.
On Sunday, the library and the two tribespeople behind it, P.V. Chinnathampi and P.K. Muraleedharan, got a nationwide introduction through the Prime Minister’s ‘Man Ki Baat,’ an interactive programme with the public. The programme referred to how even a remote tribal hamlet in Kerala ran a fully functional library.
About five years ago, this correspondent had met the duo in the library while on a visit to Edamalakkudy. There were no bookshelves in the hut.
All the books were neatly stacked inside sacks. When a reader asks for a title, it is carefully taken out and handed over — at a reading fee of ₹2 a month. Tribespeople travel miles to collect books from the ramshackle library.
Muraleedharan, a teacher at nearby Mangulam, was the brain behind the library, coming up with the idea nearly a decade ago. Chinnathampi joined him and now the library functions at his house-cum-tea shop. Chinnathampi, an ardent reader, also keeps a register of the lent books.
There were only a few hundreds of books, all of them manually carried, 20 km inside the forest. Radio was the only mode of communication in Iruppukalkudy, where nearly 25 families live.
The village has no mobile phone and electricity connection.
With no other means of entertainment in the settlement, with huts scattered over a wide place, the books provide them a window to the world outside.
Edamalakkudy, which has over 1,200 residents, has been declared the only tribal grama panchayat in the State. Iruppukalkudy is among its remotest settlements on the hilly tracks.
The library, near the edge of a huge rock facing a deep gorge, is open for members round the clock as Chinnathampi, in his 70s, rarely venture out.