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When silence has a price
May 9, 2013


It has been many moons since an early meeting with the Commissioner of the City of Panjim, a gentleman BW knows from far but one who recognises the worth of a program from its operations and intent.

At this early meeting, the Commissioner suggested an intervention, like  the BW Mobile Outreach work at the Reading Room that the Corporation manages in St. Inez Panaji.

BW has never skipped a heart beat between opportunity to tell a story, connect children with books and grow the outreach on reading. The commissioner, a man who has numerous and onerous tasks on his table stayed committed to the idea by providing shelving, walking us around the space and communicating that the program had his support and the intent was to enable children access and provision to the Reading Room in St. Inez.

Bookworm’s tidal team went into Reading Room operation mode. We created schedules for both the book selection and collection, the programming at the space, the promotion and networking to bring children to a space that was being created for them around books and operation Reading Room was born.

The day dawned, the little Bookworm army togged out and reported in time. The weather on the surface seemed clear, but dust storms awaited. The storm in the tea cup began with the shocking awareness that the Reading Room is never cleaned. The librarian did not do chores of this nature, but bookworms do what bookworms have to do and our youngest intern Francesca braved a mighty war with a Lizard, embarked on a treasure hunt and uncovered the one lone broom that was growing old behind a dark cupboard.

It was soon clear that a broom was not a sufficiently worthy weapon so reinforcements in the form of a vacuum cleaner were called for through Krystal at the Mother House.

In the meanwhile our lead intern on this project, Neha was told by the librarian that the librarian would be unable to do any door to door flier promotion as was suggested on a previous visit due to her many domestic responsibilities.

The hostility was building up, the dust storm was looking more and more ominous. Often when you are in a pro active space of engagement you move ahead, thinking this too shall pass and so Neha with the optimism and drive of a good bookworm, said we will do this ourselves. We would walk tall distributing the thoughtful and artistic fliers that Eva our resident illustrator created on demand and with joy!

And then,  almost insidiously as might happen in a dark dry desert there was a swill and a wave that assaulted us with the information that silence indeed has a price and that Reading Rooms are at a premium. Two older people whose mornings are spent in the gentle pursuit of reading news papers to inform their attitudes to life, did doth protest. There were nasty explusion of words all one sided from a newspaper waving reader, that we were in a fish market. The fact that most of us are vegetarian in the group and the symbolisation that comes from fish markets means little to us was  lost on the man in question. He was in a mode when his space was being invaded. His quiet was under threat and the invaders were ‘some’ organization who work with children. The low castes!

I will not allow this he said, I will not have noise and children in the Reading Room. The female reader took up the clarion call, shadowing the patriarch and echoed her personal theory   that libraries are silent spaces. That noise cannot be had in the Reading Room and that our presence but more than that the possibility of what we were trying to do, programming for children in a silent space was unacceptable.

Armies are not known or respected for flight. They are expected to stand their ground, brandish weapons, maim, kill and declare victory. But when you work with the highest order of crafts like literature and books, when you engage with the freshest of minds like those of children and when you work at Bookworm, you assess what is at stake and you choose wisdom over conflict.

So, Niju our Ops chief, declared we pull out. We left, we packed our boxes with the same efficiency and determination that comes from our work, knowing that to work in the nature and manner in which we believe library work should be done deserves a space of freedom. That it might be wise to let the newspaper reading people continue to grow their minds in silence ( if that is even possible, given the powerful connect between oracy and thinking) and that we will await our time when the enlightened City of Panjim awakens to the fact that its children and future is disabled, because  spaces and opportunity to read and grow the reading culture was thwarted by silence.

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