TAKE A BOOKWORM BREAK
BY URVASHI BAHUGUNA
For the first time at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Bookworm Library has a place in the Old GMC heritage precinct. The charitable organisation, which works to improve literacy and access to reading in Goa, has become a fixture of Panjim’s cultural landscape since its opening in 2005. At IFFI, from 10 AM to 6 PM, the Bookworm stall provides delegates with a pleasant reading corner kitted out with floor cushions and beanbags, and a curated collection of books, primarily comprised of children’s titles and coffee table books on art and Goan culture.
There is also a section where second- hand books (priced below 100 rupees) and new children’s books are available for sale.
Local residents Uzma Khan and Siddharth Raythatha have volunteered to man the stall. Originally slated for a
career in pharmacy, Khan is now an artist. Alongside the books, she’s selling cards she’s adorned with beautiful, minimalist paintings of Goan houses in a shade of blue inspired by traditional azulejo tiles, as well as bookmarks reflecting the state’s ecology in the earthen colour of the Kaavi art form indigenous to the region. Raythatha, who graduated with a degree in Hotel Management this summer, has been volunteering at Bookworm events for the last two years. “I have met people from all across India,” he says. The library-cum-bookstore has become a haunt for festival goers, and sales have improved after requests to stock a greater variety of books were accommodated.
The Peacock sat down with Bookworm’s founder, Sujata Noronha, to understand how film and literature complement one another, and other pertinent topics.
How did Bookworm end up at IFFI?
The Entertainment Society of Goa asked us if Bookworm would like to have a stall here. My default is to say yes, and then worry about how it’s going to happen, so eventually the reality hit us that we had to put up something and be present for eight days. So first we tried to get out of it. Then, we discovered a silent supporter at ESG, who was insistent that Bookworm be at IFFI. My sense is that they must love books. I felt that if someone has that vision for us, we must honour that. Books should be celebrated everywhere. In Goa which has a culture of festivals, food, drink and dance, reading in public spaces is still not common. We do a summer park reading every year, read poetry at the bus stop and on ferry boats, once did a singing walkthrough in a community to bring people into the library. That sense that we have to be present in a community is what made this easier.
What made you start Bookworm?
I honestly thought it would be something I did in the evenings for joy. I had stacks of books because I had two young children, aged 7 and 2, and at the time, Panjim Central Library was just two metal racks with children’s books. My friend Elaine and I were teaching in a school together, and we decided to leave at the same time. We wanted to work together, so there was this impetus to do something meaningful with a friend, plus the resource of the books, and the resource of an apartment where the library would be. Saying it was serendipitous is too much – it was convenient at the time. I am a reading teacher, deeply interested in language and literacy. That trajectory helped it grow. But I didn’t know it would be the thing in my life that it now is.
Can you comment on Goa’s reading culture?
I wish it was richer and more celebrated. I wish we acknowledged that reading helps us become better humans. Reading widely will change who we are, how we accept change, and how we look at things that are happening in this state. I really think it helps develop the mind in ways that we still don’t know enough about. Of course, there’s also a tension that’s peculiar to Goa because of many languages and scripts. There are a few factions – Marathi, Romi Konkani, Devanagari Konkani. Then, there is everyone studying English after Class 5. We’re working with local
children who are struggling with reading independently because certain basic reading skills haven’t taken root.
Do reading and watching films complement one another?
They do feed each other. We know, from our library, that a book’s popularity climbs if a film or a televised format
is attached to it. We know what’s happening in the film world when people ask us about a book related to it.
Do you think IFFI has added value to the lives of Goa’s residents?
I remember the first year, we didn’t have our traffic plan in order, and the city almost ceased to function. I recall a sense of the space being used up by a festival. There’s been a huge shift. I know many people who block out this time, who are excited to be part of the festival. How big this community is that interacts with IFFI – I really don’t know. But it’s a part of the calendar, that’s something to note when it becomes a part of your landscape, and isn’t clouded by feelings of resentment.
Read more from The Peacock: Issue 6 (2019) here: