THE NOT-SO-QUIET LIBRARY

A hero exists without understanding his/her significance in society. He* is challenged by daily ordeals and bows down to power structures. One tragic flaw (normally too much kindness/intelligence, etc) makes him rue his existence. We have seen these tragic flaws wreck people. We have also seen Rajinikanth’s ‘Muthu’.Hamartia (tragic flaw) is often presented in the third stage of the play (crescendo) between the exposition and the denouement. Aristotle wrote in depth about this concept in his bible ‘Poetics’. Little did we know about its over-bearing presence in our lives.

The Keni Project began over a phone call in the year 2013. My friend P.S.Nandini had just won The Changemakers Conference conducted by Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram which consisted of a grant of Rs. 30,000. She presented her idea of starting an initiative through which mini-libraries would be set up in underprivileged schools, by collecting second hand books from the public. Most of them did not have access to non-academic books, and she wanted to change that.She was a year junior in school to me but her expertise ran much deeper for she could sing, paint and win national awards while topping class with ease. Having met and discussed the issues that plagued society as young adults as part of Sir SivaswamiKalalaya’s debate club activities, a chord was struck. This time though, Nandini came to us with a proposition. “Meera and I were talking about taking The Keni Project further by encourage reading in low-income schools. What do you think?” she said.

Dravina and I were in our first year of collegiate education and were rather desperate to make our evenings productive. Meera and PS were busy juggling between board exams and Keni. Jayaraman helped with accounts.

Libraries were holy to us. To this day, our most fulfilling moments remain going to Anna Centenary Library and spending time there. The rustle of paper and the smell of books sate our bibliophilic tendencies. The quietness associated with libraries is symbolic of knowledge. Sometimes though, conversation stirs thought. Our first conversation was about KarpagavalliVidhyalaya.

This experiment started in the quaint little hidden streets of Mylapore amidst the slums that were shadowed by Kapalikovil’sgopuram. Our aim was to set up a small yet accessible library for students from classes 1-8. This was however met with a roadblock. We had to begin by teaching the children basic English before we could get them started on the story book.Our role as resource providers shifted to being educators and this exposed us to some harsh realities.

  • Students of class 8 were unable to read even Tinkle comics with ease. They chose to look at pictures rather than words.
  • Their attention span lasted 7 around seven minutes. They hated grammar.
  • They enjoyed laptops. The colours on the foreign screen excited them thoroughly.
  • The playground was the best place for them to learn.

Forming our own curriculum had its own drawbacks as we were muddled with half-understood lesson plans. Our weekly sessions were only partially helpful as more time was spent on recollecting lessons rather than on learning new material. The focus of the initiative began to waver. This is when we realized that it was time to alter our approach.

We defined Hamartia. We set out to change the world each book at a time but our crescendo did not see the same amount of joy that we predicted earlier on. The pressure of a ‘happy’ denouement was rising.  After intense discussions, Keni realized that it had strayed away from its former objective. Our ‘Muthu’ moment arrived soon after.

The Keni Project has gone on to establish three libraries in various other parts of Chennai such as Taramani and Washermanpet. We have a volunteer base that helps us segregate books at regular intervals. Our first second-hand book sale was conducted recently and was a success. This has helped us raise funds to buy more material for our students. Kenihopes to keep the momentum going.

The founder of the project, P.S.Nandini is currently pursuing her second year in Biotechnology. Her artful paintings have won her accolades nation-wide. Meera Viswanathan is a second year student of Psychology and no, she does not read minds. Dravina.S is a final year student of Physics who talks for a living. The author of this piece is Sanjana Ganesh and is a final year student of English Literature. She hopes to be the change she wishes to see (though Gandhi never said those words). If you wish to contact them, kindly mail them at keniproject@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thekeniproject/

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