The wilderness library


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

Library

Iruppukallakudi

Edamalakudi

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.

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