Named after an illiterate woman headload worker, this library in Kerala leads by example
Kerala is known for its library movement. Similarly, libraries, arts and sports clubs have historically been public spaces that have amply contributed towards the progressive spirit of the state. Though there are aberrations, still there are corners in Kerala where these libraries, arts and sports clubs are vibrant and active. Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club located in the outskirts of Chalakudy in Thrissur district is one such. From taking the name of an illiterate woman headload worker to its ambitious plan to launch a women’s football academy, this local library cum social club which completes 30 years leads by example.
The curious naming and how Innuneeli’s home became a library cum social club
There are many libraries and arts and sports clubs in Kerala that have taken the name of political figures, places, prominent persons and well known individuals in their social circles. But it's very rare to name them in memory of ordinary people. That’s where Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club becomes unique. It has been named after Kannaemparamban Innuneeli, an illiterate woman who worked as a headload worker in Chalakudy market. She was so healthy that even during her early 90’s she was able to find livelihood herself by involving in loading and unloading activities, mainly banana bunches.
Innuneeli till her last days led her life without any support from others as her family members including her husband and daughter passed away too early. She only had distant relatives and even they were not in a position to give care for her. It was the people around the locality who attended to her ailments. Among the locals, a PWD daily wage worker Edarathu Velayudhan and his family members even took her to their home nearby and gave her proper care. She passed away in 1990 and her home was unoccupied. The distant relatives of Innuneeli granted the property to Edarathu Velayudhan and he donated the property for an idea proposed by youth at that time--a library. That’s how Innuneeli’s house became a library cum social club in 1991 and took her name. Interestingly, the house was renovated to a club-like building in 2017 only when the number of members increased. Until then, it was maintained as Innuneeli's house itself. Meanwhile, members are now planning to get a sketch of Innuneeli done and wish to place that portrait in the library. As her photograph is not available, her sketch will be made by taking personal accounts of senior citizens in the region.
The pursuit of the club
Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club had gone through various crests and troughs in its pursuit. The vibrant library which was running in an informal setup gained a formal stature by registering under Kerala State Library Council in 2008. There was a crisis period in the library when the generation shift happened as people who initiated this venture were occupied by their occupational and personal obligations. At that time a new generation of youngsters emerged and the spirit of the library was retained. The library which was in the E-grade category gradually evolved into an A-grade library in a span of three years.
Presently, the library has more than 960 members and 7900 books, and is inching towards the ambitious A+ grade of the council. It is interesting to note that despite the limited financial support in the form of government grants, the library has been fostered by the active involvement of the core members. Even from distant places, people used to take membership in the library due to the cordial and vibrant environment offered by the library and the immediate crowd with it. More than a library and a club, it has evolved into a community.
The library has been involved in organising various programs catering to kids, youth, senior citizens and women. Among them, some are novel initiatives. Free PSC-UPSC coaching along with group study is one such and it has even attracted many from distant panchayats. As per the latest count, more than 75 people have got government jobs through this initiative.
For the last two years the club members have been involved in paddy cultivation and organic farming of vegetables. They have been cultivating crops on land taken for lease. During these two years, they have cultivated paddy on 8 acres without the help of machines or external help. During the same period, they cultivated vegetables on one-acre land through organic method. The yield was sold and in case of surplus, it was shared among the members and locals.
Similarly, the club has groomed a women’s football team that is very active in local and district level matches. The team is provided with regular training and coaching, and have won several matches.
Apart from that cultural activities, self-help groups focused on food making and hand-made products, sessions for school students, medical checkup for senior citizens and digital sessions on various topics have been actualised by Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club. It has social media handles, mainly Facebook and Instagram to update about various activities it is involved in.
As part of its 25th anniversary in 2016, 25 programmes were organised involving various stakeholders and well-wishers. During the 2018 world cup, the club organised mixed team football to uphold the message of gender equality. In the years 2018 and 2019, Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club also hosted state and district level summer vacation camps for students.
The library cum social club has received many district and taluk level accolades. Among them, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan’s award for best club and Sarojini Damodaran Foundation’s award for organic farming initiative stand out.
Innuneeli Memorial Library, Arts & Sports Club is in pursuit to become centre of excellence. According to the library secretary Arjun Palladan, the first priority is to get A+ grade from Kerala State Library Council. They also have a plan to start a football academy for women. However, lack of public ground is a roadblock. Presently, they depend on the grounds in nearby schools and panchayats.
Meanwhile, an idea to shift the library cum club to a new building is in discussion so that more people can be accommodated at a time and space constraints can be avoided. But the affection of people with the place and cost constraints pose a challenge.