Kerala’s 73-year-old grandma walks 4km daily to promote reading
For the 73-year-old Umadevi Antharjanam hailing from Budhannoor near Chengannur, a day starts early in the morning. After completing her household chores, she gets into her routine walk.
Umadevi is the ‘field librarian’ at Budhannoor Kalaposhini Library. With books stuffed in her shoulder bag and an umbrella in one hand, Umadevi walks for about 4 to 5 kilometers a day just to deliver library books to houses. The reason - for the love of reading.
For the past 14 years, she has been bringing books to the doorsteps of 220 houses, that too on foot, in the village. She collects it back after two weeks.
Even though old age ailments are taking a toll on her, she is more than ‘active’ for her age and wishes to continue in the job till her last breath.
In her own words, she is ‘carrying Saraswathi Devi in her hands on the run’ and is extremely glad that she was chosen to instil reading habit in the younger generation.
“I reach the library by 3 in the evening to collect the books. I walk for around 4 km daily and deliver these books to houses. Sometimes I reach my Madom (house of Namboodiri community is called as madom) by 6.45 pm. Mostly children and women take books from me to read. In case of students, they inform me in advance which book they want. I collect it from the library and deliver to them. The library is rich in books on all subjects – including those for students, fictions, non-fictions, detective novels, and mythological books for the elderly,” she says.
Holidays are my busy days. Everyone will be at home, especially children. On Saturdays and Sundays, the work begins earlier than usual.
Is reading habit dying?
“I can’t deny that the habit is reducing among people. But as far as this village is considered, the members at the library have not reduced. I tell small children that I will ask the story once they are done reading. Mostly everyone is interested in reading, especially small children. All the staff at the library are supportive towards me. I am very happy doing this job,” Umadevi adds gladly.
For the cause of reading
Many, especially women and children are hesitant to come to the library and take books. So when I bring books to their doorsteps, they are more likely to read it. Nowadays I have started to store some books at home. Readers call me up and say which book they want. Sometimes, they come to my house and take those books for reading. It is very sad that books in the library were lost and damaged during the floods that lashed the state in 2018.
How it all started?
Belonging to a Namboodiri community, I was not allowed to go out earlier. I got married when I was a BA student. The family I came to were strict followers of traditions and customs. I had earlier worked as a tuition teacher for more than 20 years. I used to go to tuition centres and teach students. But after my husband’s death 18 years ago, I struggled to make ends meet. Then library president Viswambharan Panicker, after coming to know of my situation, invited me here and gave this job. From then on, this has been my mission. My family is so supportive that they don’t stop me from doing my job. They all are happy that I enjoy my work.
My father-in-law was an advocate. He was so generous that the land owned by the family was donated for constructing Budhannoor school. The situation was such that even our home was donated for the school. But god helped me in survival and gave this job at the library. At first I was hesitant to go out as I had no contacts with the outer world, but gradually I picked up.
Umadevi has been honoured by various organisations, schools and colleges for her noble work. She is so excited when speaking on how Shashi Tharoor MP and former chief minister Oommen Chandy honoured her draping ponnada.
I love books. Some books that I feel like I should read, I keep aside to read after it is returned from readers. My only constraint is lack of time. It is my long time wish to pen my autobiography. I have written it hundred times in my mind but I want it to be recorded. It should be here in this world as a sign of my existence on earth. I don’t know whether there would be time.
The classic ‘Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku’ by V T Bhattathiripad and Agnisakshi written by Lalithambika Antharjanam are my favourites. Even though there are many, these books portray our lives. They mention the life of Antharjanams who were once locked in the kitchens. These books disclose our life truths and hence are close to my heart.
Early life and family
Umadevi is the daughter of Madhusoodararu Kandararu of Kottarakkara Thazhe Mangalathu Madom and Umadevi Antharjanam. She completed her studies from Kottarakkara Marthoma school and St. Gregorios College, Kottarakkara. During her undergraduate studies, she got married to Jadhavedha Bhattadirippadu of Adimadathu family. She has two children Rajesh Bhattathiri and Ranjini Devi. Daughter has been married off and son lives with her.
Budhannoor Kalaposhini Library Secretary Sunil Kumar says that Umadevi is the pride of this library.
“It is because of her, the library got its fame. Despite the old-age ailments, she is very energetic and so active. She is an asset to our village,” he says.
This elderly woman is one of the reason that the villagers have not lost interest in reading. In the age of social media, Budhannoor still holds their library close to their hearts, thanks to Umadevi.
At an age when most of the people looks for retirement, Umadevi is determined to cater to the job she is entrusted with, to inspire and influence the younger generation towards reading.