Meet the Kerala woman who walks kilometers everyday to deliver books

Radhamani delivers books to women to encourage them to read, works as a tourist guide and more.
Radhamani KP
Radhamani KP
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There is no rest for Radhamani KP on Sunday. It is her day off at the Prathiba Public Library in Kerala’s Wayanad, where she has been working as a ‘walking librarian’ for the past eight years. But Radhamani has as usual taken a load of books and set out, knowing she’d find working women at home on Sundays, their day off. “On other days, they would have gone to work under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme. Sundays, I can give them books to read,” says Radhamani, who turned 64 last month.

Four days before her birthday, Voices of Rural India, a nonprofit initiative, put out her inspiring story, translating into English the original one she wrote in Malayalam. Radhamani laughs when I ask about the write-up. Does she really walk two to three kilometers everyday just to deliver books? “Even now you have caught me at my work, I am at someone’s home delivering books to a few women,” she says pleasantly.

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic had put a stop to her work. In those early days of COVID-19, people, by then so used to having books to read, landed at Radhamani’s home to borrow a few for the weeks ahead. There are now 102 members in the library, 94 of them women.

Radhamani (right) delivers books at a home

“At first they were not so keen to read the library books. Women had Mangalam and Manorama weekly magazines to read from and didn’t want anything else. But slowly the novels began to interest them, and then the travelogues, and so on. Now I get recommendations from some of them and I keep those books aside to read for later,” Radhamani says.

The post of walking librarian had begun with the Kerala State Library Council’s initiative to take books to women at their home to encourage them to read. “It was called the Vanitha Vayana Paddathi (Women’s Reading Project) and now it is called Vanitha Vayojaka Pusthaka Vitharana Paddithi (Book Distribution Project for Women and Elderly),” Radhamani says.

She took up the post in 2012 when the walking librarian before her had to leave. But even before that, Radhamani used to often go to the library. It began with meetings of Mahila Samajam, a women’s group Radhamani has been part of. She began taking books to read until it became a habit.

Radhamani in front of the Prathibha Public Library

“I liked to read even as a child. My father, a farmer, was not literate, and I would read newspaper bits to him. He would dictate his letters for me to write. I even had to read something to go to sleep,” Radhamani says.

The family had then been in Vazhoor, a town in Kottayam. They moved to Wayanad later on – father, mother and four children including Radhamani. All the children got married into families in Wayanad. “Soon after my marriage in 1977, the chechi (older woman) next door took me to the launch of a new building of the Prathibha Public Library. The library itself was launched in 1961,” Radhamani says fondly.

She couldn’t always go to the library back then. Radhamani found herself a job first at the printing press and then for 24 years she worked as a Balavadi teacher, teaching tribal students. It was a preschool for students of the Scheduled Tribes under the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for the Children of Working Mothers.

Radhamani walks up the path to a house with books

Even when she joined the library, Radhamani kept herself busy with a number of other responsibilities. She joined Kudumbashree, the state's poverty eradication and women empowerment programme. She also took up a job as a guide under the Tourism Department and learnt to speak some French and English. Working as a guide helped her with her long walks to and from the library everyday. “I don’t mind the walks – I trek hills as a guide. But the weight of the books can be a little too much to bear. So I have reduced to carrying about 25 books at a time, earlier it was 50,” she says.

She also helps her husband run a small shop and takes care of domestic affairs. “I wake up at half past five and finish the work at home before going to the library. By the time I reach back in the evening I’d be too tired to do more work. I will relax then with TV and books to read. The last book I loved was Benyamin’s Aadujeevitham.”

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