As readers of this newspaper; you naturally
take reading for granted. We all take books for granted.
We take neighborhood libraries for granted. We understand
clearly what role they have played in our lives, and especially
during our childhood, when we would curl up with a book
that was also a complete world in itself.
Not every child in India, unfortunately, can say the same.
Not only do children from underserved communities have no
access to books; around half of the 160 million elementary
school-age children cannot even read. Even after being in
school for three to four years.
This is a good time to remind ourselves of just how far
we as a nation have to go, September 8 is celebrated as
‘International Literacy Day’.
This special day was created by UNESCO in 1965, and each
year, around the world organizations and individuals that
promote literacy use this day to renew energies and take
stock of where we are in the campaign for a fully literate
For us, at Pratham Books, it is also our anniversary.
In 2003, we launched the first book of our first imprint
Read India. We have come a long way since then, with nearly
200 titles in six languages and a print run of more than
800,000 books, reaching out to 50,000 children in 3,500
community libraries across the country.
Pratham Books is a non-profit trust that was created to
publish low cost, high quality books for children in as
many Indian languages as possible. We are part of the larger
network of Pratham, an education NGO whose mission is to
see “every child in school and learning well”.
Two years ago, Pratham had successfully launched an ‘Accelerated
Reading Programme’ in schools and communities for
children to become independents readers in a short span
of time. We had followed that up by setting up libraries
wherever possible so that these eager new readers could
continue reading for its own sake.
And then we found that there are simply not enough childrens’
books in prints in the local languages in India, which are
not only affordable but also appropriate for today’s
rather advanced young minds. So we decided to start up our
own publishing company.
A small group of people who knew nothing about publishing
but were willing to learn because the cause was important
had tried to recreate a reading movement among children
who would not normally have experienced the joy of reading.
Our books have gone into libraries across Pratham, into
schools and into the hands children in hundreds of communities
where such colourful, lively books had simply not been seen
and touched and read and heard about before.
Recently, I met Manjunath, a boy of 12 years perhaps, enrolled
in the 7th standard of a bare bones government school on
the outskirts of Dharwad. He belongs to a very insular tribe
called the Sudagadusiddaru, who continue to eke out a living
as nomadic astrologers/healers. His father had enrolled
him in the government school in the hope that he would carve
out a new future for himself. “ I do not know what
that future is, because I do not know what possibilities
exist,” his father, Basavarajappa said, his eyes brimming
with uncertain tears.
But the young boy, Manjunath, himself seemed fairly certain.
He had joined the school barely six months before. To my
enduring surprise and to the unalloyed and unenvious delight
of his peers, he stood up and haltingly read out an English
book from our Read India series. It was a 24-Pager titled
The Generous Crow, and he did not hurry. At the end of it,
his eyes were shining and he looked at me with a mixture
of apprehension and confidence. Before I could react, his
young friends had broken out into thunderous applause. We
all joined in.
“You read well. What do you want to do with your
life, Manjunatha?” I asked. “I want to go to
an English college and become an engineer,” he said,
This is the miraculous fertile ground into which Pratham’s
Read India Books are being sowed. But this is only a small
beginning if we want all our children to be literate and
reading in the next few years, we need to make sure our
publishing houses and our libraries gear up to give children
enough to keep their minds occupied. We need to create revolution
in the thinking of our young citizens. What better way to
engage in this work than to drown them in good books?