BHILAR (MAHARASHTRA): This sleepy village, lying between the picturesque hill stations of Panchagani and Mahabaleshwar in Satara district, was for long known for its strawberry cultivation with no literary pretensions.
But all of a sudden, the hamlet has turned into dear spot for bibliophiles after it was declared India's first 'Pustakanche Gaav'--village of books-- by the Maharashtra government recently.
The project to promote the "culture of reading" and lure visitors, keen to spend hours on end immersed in their picks, is inspired by Britain's Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh town known for its bookstores and literature festivals.
The concept was mooted by the Marathi Bhasha department and Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha, a government body.
As many as 25 artistically decorated locations around the village have been turned into reader hot-spots with display of books ranging from literature, poetry, religion, women and children, history, environment, folk literature, biographies and autobiographies to festival specials.
Also, the state government has provided several facilities such as chairs, tables, decorated umbrellas and glass cupboards at these spots to enhance the reading experience of literary connoisseurs.
Balasaheb Bhilare, a villager and one of the 25 hosts, who has turned a portion of his house into a free-library, expressed hope that the initiative would promote reading habit among the youth.
"The objective of the initiative may be to to boost tourism and help the village economically. But we think that the project will transform the village as its young generation will soon be enchanted by the Marathi language and its literature."
Bhilare, instrumental in convincing the villagers on how the project will benefit them, said that after the fruition of the project this week, the atmosphere of the village is changing and more and more people are coming forward to host free libraries at their homes.
Each of the 25 locations chosen initially is dedicated to a particular genre of literature and the walls of the cottages are depicted with literary themes.
"The libraries are arranged in such a way that a visitor can choose books as per his or her interest. If somebody is interested in novels, there is a dedicated spot where he can walk in and browse through fictions," said Dr Jagatanand Bhatkar, assistant secretary of the Marathi Vishwakosh Centre.
Bhatkar, who is associated with the project, said that though there is no literary legacy or history attached to the village, legendary lyricist Anand Bakshi and top-notch film composer Naushad had briefly stayed at the village.
Talking about the stock, Bhatkar said that of the 15,000 titles available, around 2,000 are children's literature.
"In order to promote reading habit, popular books from Marathi have been kept at these locations," Bhatkar told PTI.
Vinay Mavlankar, in-charge of the project, said currently there are only Marathi books but soon popular English and Hindi books will also be stacked.
"The initiative, led by state Education Minister Vinod Tawde, has received whole-hearted support from the villagers. However, its ultimate success lies with the response it gets from tourists, and we are sure that the project will attract visitors," he said.
He added that in the next phase, the government is planning to build on a 3.5-acre, a state-of-the-art library, litterateurs' corner and place for holding literary workshops. Noted author Sadanand More termed the project as a “novel concept”.
"Generally every village has a library. However, Bhilar is the first of its kind village, which is called as ‘Pustakanche Gaav’, where bibliophiles can come and spend their time reading the books, and even writers can come to fulfil their literary pursuit," he said.