Camel-Cart Library Brings Books To Desert Villages in India

CHAITANYA and the camel-cart library are hitched up for another day on the job.The camel, whose name means messenger of knowledge in Sanskrit, waits languidly as his driver Kana Ram tightens the harness. Behind, librarian Ram Charan makes a last-minute check of the books, comics, and magazines stacked in two metal cabinets roped to the cart. "We started the program to keep people in touch with books," says Mool Singh of Bal Rashmi Society, a voluntary organization that oversees the program. "But it was the people's idea," he says. "They said, 'Give us the books. For two years, the 2,600-book library, drawn by Chaitanya, has made the rounds of 10 villages in the desert scrub south of Jaipur in Rajasthan state. For a fee of three rupees or 12 cents a month, 300 villagers, including 100 children, have become members and borrow books regularly, says Mr. Charan, the librarian. "I go into the village, ring the bell, and the people come out," says the recent college graduate, who was unemployed and took the offbeat position nine months ago for about $30 a month. "I got two new members yesterday," he boasts. Charan says the most popular books are the Indian classics, the "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana," novels on village life by Prem Chand, how-to tomes, and volumes on vocational courses and helpful pointers on how to pass public exams. "The children near the city spend money on lottery tickets. It's the get-rich syndrome. So we tell people, 'Rather than invest in the lottery, why don't you invest in books? says Mr. Singh, the program director. "We think we're the first camel-cart library in the world," he adds, as Charan throws a tarpaulin over the book cabinets and hops on the cart behind a sauntering Chaitanya.

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