- The Bhilar Books Village is open seven days a week, from 7 am to 8 pm. All access is free.
- Across the village, 25 reading spaces have been created in homes, temples and schools.
- Signboards point out each location, and the genre of books available there. You just walk in, pick a book, find a comfy spot and get browsing.
- You can read in the company of pet dogs or hens, seated under jackfruit or jamun trees.
- It’s not just books on offer either. Resident are using their free time to show visitors around the strawberry fields, or just chat about life in their village.
- On leaving, do write in the feedback book available at each location. The Book Village Centre is looking to hear from you on what you liked most, and how they can improve your experience.
Between the hill stations of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, India’s first book village just celebrated its first weekend. Pustakache Gaon is inspired by Britain’s Hay-on-Wye, a book-themed Welsh town known for its quaint bookstores and its literature festival.
Families drove into Bhilar from far and wide over the weekend, set for a day of browsing.
“We just wanted to show our support for this fantastic concept by the government of Maharashtra,” said Shanta Purandare, a school teacher. “A village encouraging reading, that too in Marathi — that is something we’d never miss. The kids visited the children’s literature section and didn’t want to leave.”
The Purandares came from Mumbai, driving for six hours in a convoy of three cars — a family of 10, including two toddlers.
Essentially, 25 spaces have been converted into free public libraries in this village.
Some are houses that have put a few bookcases and scattered tables and chairs, umbrellas and beanbags in their balconies and courtyards. Elsewhere, schools and temples have done the same.
There are over 15,000 titles across 25 genres, including history, travel, sport and children’s literature, currently all in Marathi.
“We’re planning to include other languages soon,” says Dr Jagatanand Bhatkar, assistant secretary of the Marathi Vishwakosh Centre associated with the project. “For those who can’t read, there are audio books available.”
When you’re done reading, you can take in the strawberry fields and litchi plantations over a glass of strawberry juice.
“They are not just readers who walk in, they are also our guests,” says Ganpatram Parathe, who has created a reading space in his courtyard. “Besides, we want them to come again and tell others too.”
“Book shops are shutting down in cities and to see a village embracing this concept is very moving,” says corporate communications manager Ganesh Mane, who drove here from Pune, two hours away.
“I’d been wanting to visit ever since I first read about the book village opening on Thursday,” says lawyer Rhea Kadam, 25, from Mumbai, who cancelled lunch plans with relatives so she could come here with her 23-year-old brother. “My brother’s been taking photos all day, to inspire others in Mumbai to come too. There are books here that I have never seen or heard of anywhere else.”
The villagers are excited about the project too—it’s allowing them to connect with people they might not otherwise meet, and showcase their village in an all-new way. It’s also helping them make friends. Manda Sham Bhilare, a strawberry farmer who lives alone and has a library in her home, says she doesn’t miss her children any more, thanks to the project. “My house has sports and children’s books so I am entertaining children daily,” she says. “Also right now, there’s no work in the fields, so it’s nice to have company and something to do.”
Ganpat Bhilare is so excited about welcoming readers into his courtyard that he insists on treating each new group to a plate of strawberries from his fields first. “This is the best thing to have happened,” he says. “I meet new people, I get to know about what’s happening with them and also share knowledge about strawberries and farming techniques. One couple wanted to know how to choose the best strawberries and I showed them… the trick is in the colour and number of seeds!”