A few decades ago, Malayali readers had many books from Soviet Union in their list of favourites. After the fall of the communist empire, the arrival of books stopped gradually. But the passionate readers did not forget the rich Soviet literature which enlivened their days once. Many of them took up the mission to collect as many Soviet books as they can find.
Cherishing the memories of childhood reading, Wayanad native couple Anil Emage and Laila Saein decided to collect the lost Soviet books and preserve them for future generations. With their passion and constant effort, they have set up a library exclusively for Russian literature at Kalpetta in Wayanad. They managed to get more than 2000 books including novels, research books, children’s literature and magazines.
Library- a fruit of sheer passion
Anil remembers that he was a voracious reader since a young age. The books he devoured included quite a number of translations of Soviet children’s books. The interest only multiplied as he grew up and he never lost his love for the books. In Anil’s opinion, his passion for reading and love for Russian books drew him to this endeavour. Later, Laila also joined him in the venture.
Anil Emage has been a professional trainer following his own methodologies for more than 20 years whereas Laila Saein is teacher and journalist by profession. They dedicated their leisure time amid the busy career to realise the dream. Presently, Anil and Laila runs an English communication training institute Academy For Research and Communication (AFRC) in Kalpetta.
The library also has been temporarily set up inside the office of the institution. It has been only two years since he arranged the library. Having many talented students to support him, Anil and Laila could gather a wide range of books of various genres within a span of 7-8 years. They decided to arrange the books in the form of a library. They have no business or political motive behind the endeavour and view it only as a cultural activity to promote reading.
Saving, Sharing and Selling
In Anil’s opinion, the aim of the Soviet Library is ‘Triple S’ – Saving, Sharing and Selling. Apart from the intense passion for books and reading, a social purpose also is behind this exclusive library. Preserving the cultural elements of the past for the new generation is one major intention behind the venture.
Unlike other forms of treasures, books are always meant to be shared to spread knowledge and happiness. This thought led the couple form the library and open it for the public. Among the 200 plus books piled up here, English translations of Russian books are highest in number. But they also have many Malayalam, Hindi, Bengali and other regional language translations of the Soviet books and even the original Russian books in their possession.
The major source of books is the second hand books as the original publishers have closed down. Now reprinted versions of some popular books are available. Anil and Laila has a strong support from their alumni in collecting the rare books.
Promotion through FB
The readers who share similar interests connect through social media and contribute the extra copies they have. Thus the collection grows gradually. In order to find out more interested readers and lovers of Russian books, they have also launched two Facebook pages: AFRC Book House and Soviet Books Kerala, India.
Fund from income
The couple have more than 10-20 copies of translations of some of the popular Russian books, which they sell to the interested readers. The money earned through the sales is completely invested on the expansion of the library and purchasing of more books of the category. As many of the rare books are also expensive, it is not very easy for everyone to buy them.
Committed to the dream project, Anil and Laila also spends around 30 percent of their income earned through the institution for the library. In Anil’s opinion, the money earned through the copies of the Soviet books is not sufficient to collect more books due to the high value of many such books. Having no other source of funding, the couple generously spend a share of their income for the development of the library.
Social relevance of Russian books
The Russian books contained socially relevant themes and had a very deep impact on the readers. They used books as tool for social development and it is a model that can be adopted even now. The books printed by Raduga, Mir and Progress Publishers were directly translated to regional languages in India and distributed here when the Soviet Union existed. Those books, noted for their unique content, printing and pictures, were very common in the libraries and personal collections of many readers in Kerala.
Since the fall of Soviet Union, the printing and publishing of the Russian books had stopped gradually. Only the existing copies are now being exchanged between the interested parties. So, maintaining a collection of the rare books will be useful for those who live in the past and the budding readers of modern generation.
The Soviet Library in Wayanad has an attractive collection of the Russian books including Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’, his autobiographical trilogy ‘My Childhood’, ‘My Apprenticeship’ and ‘My Universities’, books of Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Pushkin and other major Russian authors, children’s books, magazines like ‘Misha’ and many other rare and precious books from the Soviet Union.
Plans of expansion
Anil said that he had sought assistance from the government for the expansion of the research library. Also they have plans to develop the library into a separate establishment and launch a book shop for the sales of the available copies of Russian books.
Many literary enthusiasts and research fellows came in search of the rare Soviet books treasured here giving the couple a feel of contentment. Anil Emage said that people from various Indian cities and foreign countries have been the beneficiaries of the library.
This month, a Russian book event is scheduled to be conducted at the library.
The masterbrain couple
Having a taste for writing, Anil and Laila have assumed unique pen names also. Anil chose ‘Emage’ as his second name because he was an introvert in childhood and felt he lacked an image. He slightly changed the spelling to denote the imperfection within the self and hence the name Anil Emage. He suggested the pen name Saein for his wife, influenced from her parents’ names Sainudheen and Sainaba.
Anil and Laila has bagged honours for their contribution in professional training and education sector. Anil has presented papers on education at Microsoft, SAP Labs and United Nations. Both of them have received the Toastmasters International Award from Toastmasters Club in Rabigh of Saudi Arabia. Apart from this, Laila has also won National Karmaveera Chakra Award. She is also the author of the biography of Nihari Mandali, a burn survivor activist from Andhra.
With dedication and hard work, the ‘Soviet Book lovers’ couple has only plans to multiply the reach of the books to readers. In a time when social media and technology conquer the leisure time of all, their efforts to preserve the books on the verge of extinction is truly praiseworthy. The Soviet Books Library is still waiting for more readers in the misty valleys of Wayanad.