At 73, P.V. Chinnathambi runs one of the loneliest libraries anywhere. In the middle of the forested wilderness of Kerala’s Idukki district, the library’s 160-books — all classics — are regularly borrowed, read, and returned by poor, Muthavan adivasis.
It’s a tiny tea-shop, a mud-walled structure in the middle of nowhere. The hand-written sign on plain paper pinned to the front, reads:
Akshara Arts & Sports
A library? Here in the forests and wilderness of Idukki district? This is a low literacy spot in Kerala, India’s most literate state. There are just 25 families in this hamlet of the state’s first elected tribal village council. Anyone else wanting to borrow a book from here would have to trek a long way through dense forest. Would they, really?
“Well, yes,” says P.V. Chinnathambi, 73, Tea Vendor, Sports Club Organizer and Librarian. “They do.” His little shop — selling tea, ‘mixture,’ biscuits, matches and other provisions – sits at the hilly crossroads of Edamalakudi. This is Kerala’s remotest panchayat, where just one adivasi group, the Muthavans, resides. Getting there had meant an 18-km walk from Pettimudi near Munnar. Reaching Chinnathambi’s tea-shop library meant even more walking. His wife is away on work when we stumble across his home. They too, are Muthavans.