Empowering Communities Through The Power Of Reading - Eastern Mirror
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Empowering communities through the power of reading

By Moakala T Aier Updated: Apr 22, 2024 12:13 am

Community library, Kigwema village

DIMAPUR — Twenty-eight-year-old Akho Phira, a bibliophile, is on a mission to make reading accessible in his village of Kigwema, under Kohima district. In 2021, he and his brother established a ‘community library’ – an outdoor space filled with books and open to all, without restrictions.

Reflecting on his early years, Phira says he shared a culture of not having enough books while growing up.

 “In hindsight, it was my dad and older brother who encouraged me to pick up reading. So I grew up reading Tinkle, Phantom, and other western comic books. These were the first books that got me into reading,” he said.

Phira pitched the idea of establishing an outdoor library to his brother because conventional libraries require a librarian and have specific timings. Hence, the concept of an outdoor library with unrestricted access to books sounded perfect.

The community library encourages children to gather in the outdoor space and enjoy reading books with their friends. Initially, the village children preferred picture books, but they gradually began borrowing storybooks.

 “One can witness the growth of the readers over the years. For our library, the messier the shelves are, the better as it is a sign that people are reading the books and making use of them,” he said.

Phira’s take on propagating reading culture

According to Phira, when you start reading, you explore different genres of writing. The more you read, your brain’s horizon also increases, and it helps with English vocabulary as well.

“Urban places have easy access to reading resources but when it comes to the villages in Nagaland, if you don’t have access to books, how can you expect reading culture to truly come up?” Phira asked.

Individuals also play a big role in influencing and encouraging friends and others to pick up the reading habit, he said.

“Another way to engage the entire community into reading is through newspapers. Newspapers actually educate you. We have also subscribed to newspapers to encourage the readers beyond reading novels alone,” he said.

A message that Phira wishes to put across to encourage the culture of reading is that, it is imperative to engage every village and every person in their respective areas.

“Even if my community picks up reading habit, the other village may not be doing so. So if we can encourage each other, it will definitely help the other community or other tribes to learn and take inspiration,” he maintained.

Role of parents in shaping a child’s reading habit

Monica Roy, a school librarian, believes that since parents are a child’s first role models, they should read and share stories with their children.

Choosing books appropriate for the child’s age is important to keep them interested. When families read together, it helps children develop a love for books and realise how enjoyable reading can be. This is a great way for parents to instill good reading habits in their children, she said.


Photo courtesy: The Magic Box, Dimapur

 She said that children should be encouraged to read from a very tender age of four or five, she encouraged parents to read aloud with them.

“Starting with short stories can be a great way to ease into reading for a child. Quality non-fiction books can also be incredibly enriching and provide valuable insights into various topics which will create an interest to read,” she shared. 

Gap between literature and society

Author Ankush Saikia, who recently published his tenth book ‘A Natural History of Violence’ as an e-book, is reminded of what he heard Ruskin Bond tell an audience in Guwahati: ‘Even when I was in school, reading was a minority activity, there were perhaps two-three boys who liked to read.’

Saikia is of the view that people read less nowadays, especially the younger generation who more into Instagram reels, YouTube shorts, Netflix, etc.

“Nothing wrong with that, in fact, if we had smartphones in our time we would have done the same. One effect of that is, people have started reading on their phones,” he said.

But in retrospection, despite many literature festivals, Saikia feels that there is a gap between literature and society. He believes this gap exists because there are not enough books reflecting the reality of life in Northeast India today.

Literature crucial to understanding cultures

Sulika Swu, the curator behind the Instagram handle @swu.onbooks, where she crafts and shares book reviews, remarked, “This is probably coming from an old-fashioned angle, but I think one of the biggest indicators of whether a society has a thriving reading culture or not is the economy of books and related events in that city or town.”

While citing Delhi as a prime example of rich literary heritage, Swu however thinks it is unfair to compare Nagaland to Delhi because Nagaland is, “yet to own a reading culture to speak of.”

According to her, Naga people are still in either the third or fourth generation of being a literate populace, and to become, “acculturated to reading will take its time and course.”

Swu said that in recent years she has noticed a couple of new bookstores in Kohima and Dimapur, along with growing literary events that people seem to enjoy.


Sulika Swu browsing through books

Underscoring the importance of having well-equipped public libraries across the state, she said that libraries are a great way to propagate a reading environment and establish a community that can convene over books for free.

She is hopeful that as a small indigenous group, the people of Nagaland are keen to preserve and promote their cultural heritage, both individually and as a community.

However, there are moments when Swu finds it challenging to comprehend how someone can fully embrace Naga culture without reading sufficiently. She believes literature is essential because it provides insights into various themes found across different cultures, enabling a deeper understanding of the world and the contexts behind different stories.

“Naga culture is unique”, Swu admits, “Likewise our problems are also unique to us. Cultures and societies speak to each other through books. We are each other’s mirrors of the past, present and future. We learn to grow and regenerate from being privy to another’s pains. We are empowered when we learn what makes us important groups of people in social evolution.”

“I hope we all see a point in considering reading not as a means to an intellectual end, but something that is intellectually rewarding for our culture,” she added.

By Moakala T Aier Updated: Apr 22, 2024 12:13:51 am
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