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More than just a village library

The Pandit Karuppan Smaraka Grameena Vayanasala at Cheranelloor is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

THIS SCENE is set in the late 1950s. The setting is the village of Cheranelloor. Every evening a crowd of villagers wait in front of an archaic double storied building that housed a small library. The wait is to listen the daily radio news. As the clock ticks six, Dr. Manuel, a homoeopath who runs a clinic in a dingy room on the ground floor of the building, switches on an old-fashioned radio. In pin drop silence, the villagers listen. Some of them stay back to listen to the songs that follow. They then disappear to appear again the next day. Rain or shine, these reached here unfailingly.

For this small crowd this get together every evening is to read their favourite books, gossip, to discuss politics. For them, this library was their favourite meeting place. This landmark at Cheranelloor was started by 50 years ago by a group of people in memory of a brave son of their own village, Pandit Karuppan (1855-1938). A legendary poet, Karuppan was a relentless crusader against social injustice and a beacon of hope for the downtrodden. Nearly 65 years have passed since the Pandit Karuppan's death, but his memory is still kept alive in his native village through the Pandit Karuppan Smaraka Grameena Vayanasala (PKSGV). Today, this library is all set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee and have slated a whole itinerary of spectacular events, innovative projects and people-friendly schemes. "We've envisaged an year-long celebration to mark our Golden Jubilee programme," says K. J. Vakkachan, convenor of the event.

In fact, the celebrations were inaugurated formally by Prof. M. N. Vijayan last month in the presence of many luminaries from social, cultural and political fields.

It was A. K. Velappan, Pandit Karuppan's nephew, who was instrumental in setting up this library. With a handful of books, a wooden shelf and a couple of chairs, the library was first housed in a two-room set up on the premises of Karuppan's ancestral home. "It all began from the small personal library owned by my father (A.K. Velappan)," says Karuppan's grandnephew Sharath Chandran. "He started a personal library in 1940 in our own premises for the benefit of the public. And it was the effort of a few good men from the village that made this library a reality." Later at a meeting held in memory of the poet, they discussed the need for a befitting memorial for Pandit Karuppan. They requested the poet's nephew to dedicate his personal library to the public, as a memorial for his uncle. He readily obliged and that was how this library began operations. Later the library was shifted to a rented double-storey building, as by then the number of books and members had grown considerably. Registered in 1953, the library now owns a 1200 square feet building, which is built on a 4.5 cents plot. A treasure trove with a collection of over 15,000 books, ranging from classics, epics to reference books and novels, the library in this new building was inaugurated by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in March 2001. Over the years, the library has been running with a meagre membership fee and a paltry library grant. "In fact, Rs. 10,000, which is the annual grant we get from the State Library Council, is insufficient to make both ends meet," says library president Joy Ambat. "Now, we're depending on the rental income that we get from our three leased-out rooms. As the cost of new books has skyrocketed, we are finding it difficult to stock the libraty with new books," adds Mr. Ambat.

A look at the bookshelves clearly reveals the pathetic condition in which the library is today. But despite the claim of the committee members that the library has a plethora of new-generation books, many of the latest ones, are not much sought after. "Novels are the most sought-after books here, reveals the librarian. Ms. Shainy. Novels by Kamala Govind and Kaanam and the thrillers by Kottayam Pushpanath move like hot cakes, reveals Shainy, the librarian. The library also has a large number of Malayalam magazines too. And this lures many villagers to the library.

While the PKSGV has a precious reference library, its English book collection is an antiquated minuscule one. The sepia-toned, dust-coated books like the Biography of J. Krishnamoorthy, Gullivers Travels, and the poems of Rudyard Kipling find no place in the circulations register. "We had a good collection of English novels. But a huge chunk of them were lost in circulation, while some were eaten away by termites and moths," confesses V. P. Josey, the treasurer of the library.

The PKSGV, which once had so many members, has of late seen a steep decline. Many old timers attribute this to politicking by the present committee members. "The membership would have doubled had it not been for the attitude of the present office bearers. Today they have converted this memorial into a safe haven for the village CPI (M) workers," states an old timer, who wished anonymity.

The members, however, attribute this fall to the changing lifestyle and to the addiction to television. This has been the bane of many libraries across the State. But there are many who believe that the PKSGV faces no such threat at all. "The onslaught of television has not affected our membership or readership. Even today over 150 readers come to the library everyday," claims Hamsa, vice-president of the library.

While many old libraries have vanished into oblivion, the selfless efforts of a few villagers have seen this landmark library through 50 long, trying years. Today this is more than a library for the villagers. It is always in the forefront in crusades against social evils, environmental pollution and obscene movies; it never misses an opportunity to honour the outstanding talents and writers of the village, conducts meetings to maintain communal amity. And they do all this in the name of Pandit Karuppan, the man who had lived and worked to achieve these goals.


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