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Posted at: Mar 13, 2016, 1:26 AM; last updated: Mar 13, 2016, 1:26 AM (IST)INTERVIEW

A book and a dream for all

Mridula Koshy’s Bicycle Dreaming is part fiction and part biography as it is inspired from children dwelling in slums and the challenges they face
A book and a dream for all
Mridula Koshy with a member of the library

Humra Quraishi

At the launch of Mridula Koshy's latest  book, Bicycle  Dreaming, two things stood out — amongst the who's who in the audience were also some children from disadvantaged segments (they are members of the library, which she runs in South Delhi). The other was Mridula’s personality. There was something tremendously positive about her and about  the choices she made in life.

You run a library for children who belong to the underprivileged section of the society. What inspired you to work on this concept?

I founded the community library along with my partner, Michael Creighton. It is one of the many projects within the NGO, Deepalaya. Although, I was a volunteer when I started working in the organisation, today I work as a staff member. The bulk of work in the library is accomplished by dozens of volunteers and library members, and majority of them are children. 

I am a mother of three and I got involved in Deepalaya, because I wanted the right environment for my children to grow up in. So, my involvement is a ‘selfish act’. Martin Luther King Jr very rightly said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I realised that while my children enjoyed all the benefits of growing up with books and quality education, children elsewhere were deprived of the same privileges. 

 Poor readership for books in India disturbed me as a writer. Again, my self-interest was at play when I started hauling a bag of books across the nallah that separates my upper-middle class home from the shanties of the children who are now members of the library. It wasn’t long before the children’s hunger for books increased to a cupboard from a bag. Thirty books were replaced by a few hundred, and eventually Deepalaya gave an entire room to the project. It enabled us to stock a few thousand books for 700 children and adults, who come to the library today. 

As a full-time writer, and a mother, how  do you manage to take out enough time to reach out to the disadvantaged children? 

My children have always been involved in the project with me at some time or the other. They are older now and need me less. My daughter is 13 and a member of the library... My children were raised to understand that change is necessary and that it comes at a price.

Do you think that writers ought to do more than effective writing for the society?

Writing is one kind of engagement with the world, one way of understanding the convoluted mankind. It may be enough for some writers, but from the beginning, I knew I also wanted to be a good parent. Raising children requires engagement with the world with all its faults. Perhaps it was my being a writer that prompted the nature of my engagement — the creation of a library where there was none. The simple truth is writers need readers; literature is created by writers and readers together. And literature in India is richer today with the many hundred more who are engaged in it at Deepalaya Library.

Your  latest  book  —  Bicycle   Dreaming — is based on a young girl and her family living  in  a slum. Do you come across many hapless children with unfulfilled dreams?

I first started to feel curious about the domestic life of children when I worked as a volunteer in the library. I wondered how families were holding together under the stress of poverty. I wondered how I would fare as a parent if I were in their place. Writing Bicycle Dreaming was about answering these questions and about understanding that poverty is not a barrier to richness in family life. But yes, below a certain threshold, it is nearly impossible for people to hold together. My work at the library brought me in contact with children growing up in difficult circumstances and that took the shape of a narrative. 


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