Library access is overwhelmingly driven by class and caste privilege, wherein reading as an act of leisure or for academic pursuits is a marker of intellectual “merit”, and pursued as such in domestic and educational spaces.
The communities that Aagaaz works with in the Nizamuddin basti have little to no access to libraries, or to the potential for libraries to enrich and nurture children’s social, emotional and intellectual well-being.
“Humare Nizamuddin me koi library nahi hai, humare schools me books ke sath itna connection nahi bana pate the. Humara khudka bhi books ke sath itna connection nahi tha.”- Zainab
We first partnered with The Community Library Project in 2017 with our theatre workshops based on Duniya Sabki, and while working with them, the actor facilitators experienced a very different idea of a libraries. Later in 2019, they also became part of the little library corner at the Nizamuddin sit-in site and engaged with children using story books.
Zainab shares “Jab hum TCLP gaye, humne libraries ke alag roop dekhe, jisme books ke sath to rishta banaya jata hai sath hi sath humare pas ek space hoti hai jaha hume accept kiya jata hai, hamare sochne ke dayre khulte hai, ham creative cheeze kar sakte hai. Humein ek space milti hai jaha hum padai bhi kar sakte hai, jese chahe wese reh sakte hai- chahe humein padna aye ya na aye, chahe humari umar kitni bhi ho, chahe hum kese bi dikhte hai sab sath me ek jagah reh pate hai bin kisi bhedbhaw ke, to hamne socha ham esi space apne Nizamuddin basti me bhi lekar aaye.”
In June 2022, Alia started working with them on creating a vibrant community space where children, adolescents and eventually, other members of the community can engage with books, different art practices and materials and see linkages between their lived realities and the broader world through stories. Stories become here, a potent site to cultivate both critical thinking and joy.
Aagaaz is proud to have joined the Free Library Network (FLN) — a collective of Library Educators from across the country who are dedicated to ensuring that library resources, programs and memberships are completely free of cost and widely accessible.
The young artist-facilitators of the Aagaaz Repertory are currently undergoing in-depth exposure and training- both, internally and through TCLP and FLN, to include library education as a dimension to their facilitation practice. They also have weekly visits to TCLP’s Khirki Library where (a first for most) they now hold library memberships of their own, and browse for personal interest as well as for their professional development.
On the 18th of August, we invited children and their mothers to a soft launch of “Khwab Ghar” (or House of dreams) that brings engagement with books, audio-visual resources and a range of library-centric activities to the Learning Centre in Nizamuddin. We are so pleased to announce that, since the first week of October, the library has opened to the larger community as well — to come visit and borrow books, completely free of cost.
We see the library program as an organic extension of this, and it has been designed to flow seamlessly into existing work.
Theatre-based engagements with Text: Theatre and performance make up a large part of the library sessions. While the facilitators bring their vast experience of performance to read-alouds and other story-telling, the children, in turn, respond to these texts through songs, role-playing, sketches, movement games and original performances.
Space/ Atmosphere: Most of the floor and wall space in the learning centre is required for the theatre and movement-based sessions, so the library exists as a flexible and collapsible entity, with elaborate book displays that are improvised minutes before the library sessions and dismantled after. The children often participate in the arrangement and tidying of the books during this process.
“Humne iski abhi shuruat ki hai, abhi jin bacho ke sath hum kam karte hai unke sath shuruat ki hai dheere dheere ise Nizamuddin basti ke sab logo ke liye kholne ki koshish hai” shares Zainab who along with the other actor facilitators are holding down the Khwab Ghar programming and engagements.
While our vision is gaining clarity, the library program is currently functioning with no funds at all, and with barely any infrastructural support.
We are urgently seeking a new workspace in the neighbourhood. The learning centre is housed in an old building with leaking and chipped walls, and little ventilation. It is currently pushed to its capacity containing all the participants, facilitators as well as our library collection. While we do not separate our theatre practice from the library, a larger work-area would allow for both to unfurl and grow, while allowing people visiting to be comfortable in their surroundings. To this end, we require support to be able to rent and run a larger space.
We also wish to grow our small collection of books in a thoughtful way, and to create portable shelving for our space. We use a lot of art and crafts material and stationary, and we are looking to grow our digital resources in the program, and obtain a projector for screening videos and films.
During this season of festivals, you can also light up the worlds of the children we work with by contributing towards Khwab Ghar!
Compiled by Alia and Subhadra
Photos by Alia Sinha