‘Walking Library’ Of Bangladesh No More: The Man Who Walked For 30 Yrs To Make Villagers Read Books

‘Walking Library’ Of Bangladesh No More: The Man Who Walked For 30 Yrs To Make Villagers Read Books

“People in my village do not pursue studies. Where is the time? Hunger makes them toil all day. That’s why I thought if I can somehow initiate them to reading,” a 96-year-old Polan Sarkar had once shared. He himself could not complete school but had been making the poorest of poor of Bangladesh read for the past 30 years. Recognised and revered as the ‘Walking Library’ or Alor Ferrywala (‘Peddler of Lights’) in his motherland Bangladesh, noted social activist Polan Sarkar breathed his last on March 1, 2019, at 98.
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In our pursuit to celebrate the unsung heroes from around the world, Efforts For Good brings you the incredible story of Polan Sarkar.
A school dropout with a book addiction

Born as Harez Uddin Sarkar on September 9, 1921, in an obscure village of Natore, Bangladesh, Polan Sarkar got popular in later life with the nickname fondly given by his mother. Five months after his birth, his father passed away, leaving the family helpless in a sea of poverty. Financial constraints did not permit Polan to pursue his education beyond the sixth standard. However, a young Polan had already picked up an addiction, the addiction for reading.
As a young adult, Polan joined a folk theatre group and acted in small comic roles. His deep passion for reading made him take care of all the literary essentials of their work – be it writing the manuscripts or being a prompter from backstage. While penning new plays and skits, Polan came across a treasure trove of the regional literature which only fuelled his love for books.
Meanwhile, his family was receiving financial support from an affluent relative.
Distributing books among village students

As luck would have it, soon his benefactor lost all their property, leaving Polan and his family at a helpless juncture once again. He secured the job of a committee chowkidar, which involved walking village after village to collect taxes. It was at this time that he started using his visits for another reason – distributing books for free among the village students, to ensure they never go out of touch with reading.
Within the next few years, Polan Sarkar founded a high school in his village. At his school, the top ten rank holders were rewarded with books every year, a practice which never existed before in those rural interiors. Soon, the trend was replicated by government schools in adjoining villages and the habit of reading grew up among the villagers.
Diabetes and the walking library

In 1990, Polan Sarkar was diagnosed with Diabetes, and the doctor advised him to walk regularly. A unique idea crossed his mind. Every morning, clad in a traditional kurta and lungi, he would set out on the rustic roads, armed with a heap of books. Going door to door, he would request every person to choose a book from his bunch and would lend it for the next few days or weeks. He would frequent the readers now and then, enquiring about their progress on the book or lending the next one. For thirty years, Sarkar would unfailingly venture out on the village lanes with his books, urging each and every passer-by to read and spread the habit.
The undying legacy of Polan Sarkar

In a 2017 interview with Bangladesh daily Prothom Alo, Polan Sarkar had said, “I have seen people donate food or clothes, but nobody ever thinks about donating knowledge.”
He himself was the flagbearer of this concept in his country. The book crusader created a reader base of 5000 people across ten villages, simply walking on foot. Unsurprisingly, his gifts to his friends, relatives or acquaintances, on any occasion, would always comprise books.
The people of Bangladesh have honoured the legacy created by Polan Sarkar through several awards, including the country’s highest civilian award for social work – Ekushe Padak. He was not someone to be swayed by the success and had always continued heralding his tradition. He had kept aside all the money he received with the Ekushe Padak, for renovating his school and library.
Source - effortsforgood

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