From strawberries to books: Maharashtra’s Bhilar to become readers’ haven
India’s first book village will come up near Bhilar, a village near the hill station of Panchagani
A village in Maharashtra famous for its strawberries is soon going offer more - rare Marathi books and magazines.
From May 4, Bhilar will become India’s first ‘book village’ where tourists and locals can come and read books, magazines, newspapers stacked at 25 premises. Near the popular the British-era hill station of Mahabaleshwar, Bhilar already attracts a large number of tourists, who come to taste the locally produced strawberries.
Bhilar, which has a population of about 10,000, and nearby areas produce around 100 tonnes of strawberry every year, earning them Rs 50 crore. And 90% of the village’s population is involved in strawberry farming.
State education minister Vinod Tawde said the Maharashtra government wanted to encash on Bhilar’s location in order to further promote tourism and the Marathi language. The idea of ‘pustakanche gaon’ – book village in Marathi – came from Hey-on-Wye, a small place known as ‘town of books’ in Wales, United Kingdom.
The government brought 10,000 books and magazines, including issues of old popular Diwali Anks or special issues of Marathi magazine published during the festival of lights with the help of locals this week.
Officials said some of the books are very rare and out of publication, including novels, reference books about Maharashtra and Marathi culture written by prominent authors. Along with books, most houses have also been painted with pictures of books to attract tourists.
Two weeks ago the government appealed to artists from Mumbai and Pune through Swatva, an informal WhatsApp-based artist and art-lovers’ network, to help it paint the premises where books have been placed for public reading.
Responding to the appeal, 75 artists turned up at Bhilar and painted walls of houses, temples and other tourists destinations as a part of 3-day painting camp. They painted the walls with graphics and images of books to indicate readers about genres of books they might be interested in reading.
According to Tawde, the artists responded to government’s call voluntarily.
“Our village now looks fresh and new. The government’s efforts have encouraged locals who wants to participate in the initiative,” Vikas Bhilare, a strawberry grower, said.
While most books are in Marathi, the government plans to add Hindi and English books in the collection at a later stage. The government has also asked locals and other literary institutions to conduct reading sessions and literary events at Bhilar to attract books lovers.
To ensure that books are returned by tourists, they will have to pay a nominal deposit.
“We will accept nominal deposit from readers to ensures books are returned and maintained well by readers. Given that the region receives heavy rainfall during monsoon, we plan to make necessary arrangements to ensure books are maintained properly,” Anand Katikar, who heads Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha, said.
After becoming the education minister, Tawde had announced his plans to identify a place and turn it into a book village. It took 2 years for his ministry to bring his plans into action as identifying a village for the project consumed most of the time, the locals and readers, however, are satisfied.
“It’s an interesting concept derived from the western world. Once the government inaugurates the book village, I plan to go there soon,” Mangesh Joshi, a book lover from Pune who frequently visits Mahabaleshwar, said.