It wasn’t a regular Sunday for Shiva Kumar or for the nearly 40 children who crammed his shop – a little chai-cum-kirana shop in an unpretentious low-income area, Satyam Nagar in east Bangalore, home to a straitened community.

His rickety, almost tattered awning shop today has a big patch of color beside and a gathering of children. A small book library had found a place in his shop. The books hung from a long vertical blue cloth rack like a kangaroo pouch and in whose warm pockets live books.

These colourful, shiny bright books with their beautiful illustrations invited energetic young minds, aroused curiosity and promised to nurture it.

And the children came. Their faces carried expressions of wonder and amazement. All these books for them to read? What an extraordinary gift! They leafed through the pages, took in the pictures, the stories, the extravaganza before them.

Hardly sated, they now come every day to their neighbourhood mini library – they come back to Shiva Kumar’s tea shop and in doing so are being accompanied by adults too.

To focus on the literacy needs and find ways to build bridges between words and young and adult minds alike, we at Akshara Foundation launched Cutting Tea Tales on International Literacy Day.

We go local and tap the chai cum kirana shops with our cutting tea tales. Portions of these shops are converted into mini libraries which provide access to our carefully categorized books in English, Kannada, Urdu and Tamil.

On why we love and pick these small tea cum kirana shops and convert them into mini libraries – we feel that these places often serve as a meeting ground where people drive conversations. It is these places that we think are the starting points for shared aspirations for a community.

The community setting approach not only helps connect but also provides for a reading environment that is not intimidating. In doing this we also share the common belief of stepping forward, engaging and making people willing to join others in something that will require collective impact efforts.

We are not overtly worried if the books are stained, marked or falling apart with use, since there is no better death for a book than it having been read too much and by too many. Those present will have access to books in Kannada, English, Urdu and Tamil.

In days to follow Cutting Tea Tales will reach the rural blocks of Kushtagi and Mundargi. What’s more – Pratham Books ( a non-profit trust that publishes high quality books for children at affordable prices and in multiple Indian languages) is happy to join hands with us and will provide books for our libraries.

 As Roald Dahl said, the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. So, next time you if you spot one of these libraries, dive in, take the good parts, skip the bad , get what you can get out of it, go on to something else.

Until then…stay curious, stay booked.

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