Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Illiterate but Passionate Librarian

India - Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
Yesterday's post of Philani's pavement bookstore reminded me of the story of Latif - a librarian in Srinagar.

Via Deccan Herald

On the banks of picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, sits the only library in the neighbourhood, run by a man who loves books but cannot read. In a single-story wooden house, carefully maintained shelves are filled with around 600 books in several languages, the prize possessions of Muhammad Latif Oata, a 44-year-old handicrafts seller who dropped out of school at age 10 to work.

Over two decades, Latif, a Kashmir native, has accumulated all these books through exchanges and donations from people who visited his shop, first in Goa, then in Karnataka and now here in Dal Lake, a popular tourist destination.

Since the vast majority of those who visit the library are tourists, he has named it the Travellers Library. Anyone can take a book; all Latif asks is that borrowers describe the stories contained in the pages of the books they return. 

Latif’s love affair with books began in the early 1990s when he was in Goa, where he sold handicraft items in a small shop. One day, a foreigner stopped near his stall, holding a book written in English by a south Indian author. He didn’t want the book anymore, so he handed it to Latif. Because Latif couldn’t read, he asked the foreigner to tell him what the book was about. The story was about a young girl from a poor family in Kerala who achieved success despite all the struggles in her life.

“When he told me the story of that book, it inspired me and drew me toward the stories contained in books,” said Latif. “I wanted to know more stories from people who had read them in books as I couldn’t read them.” Latif kept that book on his shelf in the shop. 

Some time afterwards, a foreign couple who stopped by his shop asked to buy that book. Latif told them that he didn’t want to sell it but that he would be willing to give it to them if they left another book for him. The couple gave him two books. By exchanging books in this manner, his collection on the shelf grew, and visitors would often narrate the stories in the books they left behind.

So, the next time you find yourself in Srinagar, don't forget to go looking for Latif's library.

Image Source : sandeepachetan

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