Lockdown Heroes: Kerala Professor Converts His Car Into A Mobile Library
Dr Biju Balakrishnan distributes books from his own collection among enthusiasts affected by closed-down libraries
A professor in Kerala has converted his Maruti Alto car into a mobile library. His aim is to reach out to as many reading enthusiasts as possible, who are currently missing out on reading, as libraries have remained shut because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Dr Biju Balakrishnan, 41, from Karakonam in Thiruvananthapuram district, has been driving around several villages and small towns to hand out books in Malayalam, Tamil and English. "I distribute school and children's books, college texts, novels, science fiction books, classics and works of other genres. They are all from my personal library, which has more than 6,000 books," Balakrishnan tells Reader's Digest. He has distributed around 2,500 books, ever since he began his mission on 5 April.
A lecturer at the Sree Krishna College, Guruvayoor, around 320 kilometres north of his hometown of Karakonam, Balakrishnan was prompted to start his mobile library following complaints from students who called his father, a well-known teacher, on how they were missing out on reading.
A published poet and a regular contributor in local newspapers and magazines, Balakrishnan says that the ripple effects of the coronavirus and the lockdown have left a few sections of India untouched, but book lovers are not among them. "Many people go to libraries or exchange books to read. The reading culture is so strong here that it was one of the first things people missed when the lockdown began," he says.
Prof. Biju Balakrishnan hands out books from mobile library. (Photo courtesy Biju Balakrishnan)
While it is true that several publishing houses are offering free e-books to overcome boredom during the lockdown, Balakrishnan says that the "feel of a real book" cannot possibly be replicated. As soon as he returned from Guruvayoor, Balakrishnan enrolled himself as a COVID-19 volunteer and started helping government agencies to spread the message of social distancing and other precautions. This helped him procure a volunteer badge, which now makes it easy for him to move around.
"I mostly operate through my phone and drive around 30 kilometres, on an average daily, to reach out to readers. Before I approach a certain panchayat, I inform the locals, who are interested in reading to come to a designated place and collect the books," he says. “All for free.”
Balakrishnan has distributed books among students, homemakers, senior citizens, and even police personnel and medical workers. "Anyone can pick any book from the boot of my car," he says.
So when does he intend to collect the books back? "Some have returned them after reading, while others haven't. Many may have passed the books on to others to read, I hope," he says. Admittedly, he is not expecting the bulk of his books to be returned. "It doesn't matter, really. As long as they are read, I am happy," he adds.