Joy of Reading

Maharashtra’s books village seems like a good idea – but what do its residents think of the project?

Located midway between two hill stations, Bhilar is now home to 15,000 Marathi books, from diverse genres and sources.

Reading in Bhilar involves all your senses – as you spend your weekend lost in the pages of an epic romance, you will hear the unmistakeable sound of a knot of chickens walking past, clucking in disapproval. The familiar aroma of coffee at your favourite bookstore is replaced by wood smoke from a household chulha, and as you sink deeper into a red beanbag with your favourite existentialist, the reverie will be perfumed by incense, punctuated with the chiming of temple bells.

Located midway between the hill stations of Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, Bhilar (a scenic village of around 3,000 people) was shortlisted two years ago to be turned into a books village modelled along the lines of Hay on Wye, the Welsh market town best known for its plentitude of bookstores, libraries and a famous literary festival.

On May 4, the Rajya Marathi Vikas Sastha and Maharashtra’s State Education Minister Vinod Tawde declared Bhilar, India’s first Pustakanche Gao or Village of Books, open to the public. An all-access, village-wide library conceptualised for the promotion of Marathi language and literature, the village is now home to 15,000 Marathi books, from diverse genres and sources. By introducing books into the homes and establishments of the villagers, the state administration hopes to foster positive habits of reading among locals and encouraging cultural pride among the Marathi-speaking tourist population.

“Since the inauguration of Pustakanche Gao the number of tourists coming into Bhilar has increased,” said Venkat Suryavanshi, an employee of the Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha. “Villagers who would normally leave to vacation elsewhere have preferred to stay behind. They instead host friends and family that have chosen to holiday in Bhilar and experience the new literary attractions.”

Entrance to the pustakanche gao. Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Entrance to the pustakanche gao. Photo credit: Nupur D'souza

Shakespeare among the strawberries

Bhilar was never a typical somnolent hillside village. The tourist spots on either side of the village, Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar, see a combined tourist influx of about 40 lakh people a year. In the past 10 years, Bhilar too has grown into a popular spot for agro-tourism – its strawberry farming business fetches a revenue of about Rs 50 crore per year, as visitors from Mumbai and Pune drive down to the village to get a taste of local flavour by living in and working on the many strawberry farms that dot the slopes.

With its new reputation as a pustakanche gao, Bhilar has received a fresh wave of residents: apart from a small staff stationed at the new headquarters for the village library, two volunteers from Pune pursuing post-graduation credentials have also been roped in by the Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha to help with background administrative work for organising the books.

“Though the hardware for the books is in place: shelves, racks, seating arrangements, signboards and pamphlets, the software which will contain extensive catalogues and tags for all books is a work in progress,” said Gaurav Dharmadhikari, a volunteer. “We are also in the middle of binding the books and covering them with plastic, so that the damp monsoon air does little damage.”

Suryavanshi, who has been living in Bhilar for the past two months, was excited about the ongoing effort. “It gives visitors something to do apart from sightseeing; not everyone is eager to spend time outdoors, walking around,” he said. “Family groups have differing expectations in terms of leisure activities and the books are a great way to engage certain members of the group in a pastime that is educational.”

Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Photo credit: Nupur D'souza

Book trail

The Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha chose 25 locations around the village as homes for the new books. The selection criteria were simple: the homes should have enough space for both books and furniture, be located at a convenient distance from the main road and that the home’s residents should be willing to join the enterprise as caretakers of the books.

Walking down the village, the homes with books are easy to spot, as they are marked out with colourful signboards. If you are lost, pamphlets with a map and short description of each location are also available at any of the book-homes, or the office headquarters. The places where books can be found are also decorated with themed artwork on the walls, painted by Swatva, an informal WhatsApp-based artist and art-lover’s network centred in Thane. Months prior to the inauguration, close to 70 artist volunteers made the journey to Bhilar to brainstorm and paint stunning, wall-high murals at each of the 25 locations.

Along with the homes of villagers, the Rajya Marathi Vikas Sanstha also picked some commercial spots to house books in, to showcase the village’s atmosphere. These spots include a usual assortment of hotels and guesthouses along with three temples, two of which have exceptional views.

Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Photo credit: Nupur D'souza

Amit Vengsarkar, an employee in a software company in Mumbai, arrived at Bhilar when he read several tweets about the village. Staying with his in-laws, wife and young daughter at one of the resorts where rare publications on Marathi literature are housed, he said he found it fascinating to watch his 11-year-old sit for extended periods flipping through story books and comics in the children’s literature section with her grandfather.

“Kids today are so detached from the beautiful world that books engender,” he said. “Working in a software company leaves me with no illusions about the pivotal place technology has in our life and I cannot hold my city-bred child responsible for always wanting to play on a smartphone, but it has been incredibly comforting to watch two individuals from very different generations connected in the pleasure of the simple act of reading.”

Another visitor who sat absorbed in his book in a corner seemed mildly vexed at being interrupted, and offered only that he was thrilled that his family was able to go looking for strawberries outdoors, while he could enjoy some quiet time by himself.

Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Photo credit: Nupur D'souza

Stranger than fiction

Most of Bhilar’s residents were perplexed at the village’s sudden surge in popularity. While some, particularly those who had volunteered as caretakers of books, were optimistic, others had complaints shared by those who live in popular tourist spots: traffic now clogs Bhilar’s narrow main road, odd bunches of people stroll about in a holiday haze, peering into private homes and small lanes, incessantly seeking answers and directions.

But since some of the books in Bhilar are rare academic books, the village has also seen a number of visitors coming here for research or academic inquiry.

“It isn’t possible to bring an all-encompassing change, but one can definitely hope for at least a few engineers and doctors to come out of Bhilar now that the world is exposed to them through these books,” said Santosh Sawant, custodian of the humour section of the village library. “These books have put Bhilar on the map,” he added with some excitement. “I work in Satara and have heard talk of the village increasingly since the establishment of Pustakanche Gao.”

Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Photo credit: Nupur D'souza

Dattatraya Bhiku Bhilare, an octogenarian involved in education since the early years after Independence, reminisced on the adversities faced by people of the surrounding villages in the past. Dressed in a pristine dhoti-kurta, brown waistcoat and crisply peaked Gandhi topi, he smiled as he recalled: “I used to cycle every day to all the neighbouring villages, up and down the ghats, mentoring teachers in several far-flung government schools and regularly inspecting their work.”

Bhilare’s grandson, Abhijeet, a courteous and shy young man of 19, stood off to the side, looking affectionately at his grandfather, “They had little to no resources then and one can only guess the quality of education they might have imparted if it were not for Baba guiding them every step of the way,” he said. “He would travel to the cities to buy books and study material.”

The Bhilares own an impressive personal library, alongside the shelf one allocated to them by the state government. “Baba would mark out passages that were significant to him and jot down his thoughts in extensive notes, which he then shared with his colleagues and mentees,” Abhijeet said.

“I have huge hopes for the people of Bhilar,” Bhiku Bhilare added. “Books can help rewrite one’s destiny and the forging of this relationship has surely altered the course of our fate.”

Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
Photo credit: Nupur D'souza
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.