Bhilar in Maharashtra: The first Book Village of India
My search for unique stories brought me to a small village Bhilar in Maharashtra. Located between Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar in Satara district, Bhilar is a quiet and sleepy village. It became cynosure in May 2017 when it was declared as the first book village of India by the Maharashtra government. The quaintness was actually brewing a literary storm which burst out in the form of one of a kind of initiatives. Bhilar in Maharashtra is the first book village or Pustakanche Gaav (as called colloquially) of India. A small village with no literary nexus is now cherished by all the bibliophiles.
Bhilar was on my list before I got to Pune and so plans were made accordingly.
Driving through the picturesque roads of Panchgani and savouring fresh strawberries, I was at the edge of my sitting speculating all sorts of visuals of the village. There aren’t enough pictures of Bhilar village on the internet and hence I had no clue as to how the village would look. Needless to say, I had my imagination was on roll all the time. I literally screamed the moment I saw the first board bearing the name “Pustakanche Gaav” and the kilometres remaining. I was with two other friends and for the longest time, they kept saying “are you sure this place exits?” so the board acted as a validation that we were on the right track.
A huge board of “Pustakanche Gaav” at the beginning of a quaint stretch of single road confirmed that we had arrived at the Bhilar Village. The village has a different vibe with colourful boards installed at every few meters. I was there on a public holiday and the main office was closed. But a local confirmed that rest everything is wide open. With absolutely no idea what to expect we followed the boards and reached one house where a gentleman Abhijeet Bhilare gave us great insight into the village. The book village is inspired by a Welish town Hay-on-Way in Britain which is worldwide famous for its literature festivals and bookstores.
This book village is curated under the guidance of Education minister Vinod Tawde.
Bhilar was officially inaugurated as India’s first book village on May 4, 2017, by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The sole motive of this initiative is to encourage reading habit in youth and lure tourists to promote tourism. So far 25 houses of the villages have been transformed into libraries. The doors are always open. All you have to do is walk down to the house with a free library of your interest. There are clear boards indicating the genre of the library. From literature to poetry to religion to history to comedy to kids’ section to folk literature to biographies and autobiographies, the village has something for everyone. The owners of these houses have voluntarily given certain portions to be transformed as free libraries.
Ponting to the artistically painted facade of the library, Abhijeet told us that the genres have been intelligently depicted in form of paintings so that you can identify the category from a distance. More than 75 artists volunteered for the painting task and have successfully transformed the village into a riot of colours. He also told us that the State Government took care of a lot of setups, right from the basic table chairs to the book stands to the glass cupboards and colourful boards on the roads. Currently, the village houses more than 15000 books, all in the Marathi language though.
There are plans in place to get books in English and Hindi as well.
Bidding goodbye to Abhijeet we decided to take a stroll through the picturesque lanes of book village. The village has the hint of literary aroma in the air. Something which can only be felt and is very difficult to describe. We walked into few libraries and the setup is meticulously done. Some chairs/sofa, a bookshelf with glass panes and a revolving book stand is something which you will see almost in every library. Minimalistic and neat suits best to describe the ambience of the library. The diversity of paintings on the walls is impressive. A library with comic books has hilarious faces on its wall, the kid’s library showcases animated characters and likewise for the other genres. The village is sprawled over around 2 kilometres and we didn’t even realize how quickly we covered it all.
As I was about to leave I looked back at the long road again. How cool it would be if more and more villages decide to do something similar. With so many books all around you cannot help but look at them and flip those pages. The initiative inspires you to open a book and indulge in reading. In this technology-driven era, a concept like this makes you slow down, sit and ruminate over where we have reached. It’s like going old school and needless to say the world was simpler and happier then.
Bhilar is approximately 105 kilometres away from Pune. It takes around 3 hours to reach from Pune. If you plan to take local buses then catch the one which goes to Mahabaleshwar and get down at Bhilar.
Some tips if you plan to visit Bhilar Village:
- Though bus is an economical option to reach Bhilar I recommend getting your own vehicle. Purely for the reasons that you might want to spend some time in Panchgani, pick up some Jams and jellies at Mapro, randomly stop to enjoy the sunset and a lot more. Having your vehicle will give you the needed control on the journey.
- As you reach the book village, try to get the map of the village. You can easily get one from any of the libraries or you can even get it from their main office. The main office is right at the entrance of the village and very hard to miss. The map helps you in navigating and locating libraries of your area of interest.
- Wear comfortable footwear as it involves a lot of walking.
- The book village also accepts books as donations. If you have some books to donate make sure you take them along when you visit the book village.
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