G Murugaraj with his library van
When he was pursuing his MBA from Anna University in Tamil Nadu five years ago, G Murugaraj had no fancy dreams. He just loved finance as a subject and had decided to go with the flow. Post his MBA, he got a job in a multinational bank but got bored of it quickly. He returned to his hometown at Kumbakonam to provide a hand to the family jewellery business but his father was not too keen to have him there. With no direction visible, he started an advertising agency for people in and around Thanjavur and other Chennai districts. While meeting up with clients he realised that they had little knowledge about the world outside and little exposure to world literature. In fact, they did not read much either, which came as a shock to the voracious reader in Murugaraj.
Thats when the idea of a mobile library hit the 28-year-old. But without the money to start it up, he was not sure how he would proceed. I had a lot of books which I had collected over the years and I knew of people who wanted to read but getting those books to them was the question, said Murugaraj. I thought hard about this and realised that only solution was to take the books to people and that is when the mobile library idea struck me, he said.
The insides of the van with books on display
To begin with, the young MBA graduate started delivering books using his bicycle. But then one could only do so much with a bicycle, considering the number of books and people he was delivering to. By then, friends too had started contributing books to the library so I had a sizeable number with me, he said. A four-wheeler was clearly in order, from which he could not only deliver books but also put them up on display. Buying a van was something he could ill-afford, so hiring one was a solution. But then again, the daily Rs 800 rental was also beyond reach.
It then struck him that he could really use a van for just two to four days days a month and other days transport the books on his bicycle. And thats how Murugarajs mobile library has been functioning for the last seven months in Kumbakonam. Its a satisfying feeling though I do not make any money. But I was alarmed about the fast declining reading habit among people and children and wanted to do something about it. This is the closest that I can come to in order to make people read more, Murugaraj told PaGaLGuY.
The lifetime membership price of the roving library has been kept at a modest Rs 300 only because people cannot afford anything more. In the beginning I announced a monthly fees of Rs 300 but there were no takers, so I made it Rs 300 for lifetime and now I have almost 30 members. This is only the beginning. Once people get into the habit of reading and enjoy it, they will come in big numbers, the librarian hopes.
Murugaraj, depositing books on the cycle
Murugaraj is on his bike almost everyday, dropping and collecting books. On the days when he hires a four-wheeler, he tries to get new customers by parking the vehicle near temples, colleges and schools in Kumbakonam. He hands over the list of his books with code numbers to interested people. Once a member is on board, all he has to do is pay the fee and receive the book at his doorstep by simply SMSing the book code number to Murugaraj.
Today ‘Vallalar Library’ as Murugaraj has named it, has 356 books under 17 classifications. He takes on members from outside Kumbakonam and the rest of Thanjavur district. He also takes on customers from Chennai. “I visit Chennai almost every week so I dont have an issue with depositing books there, says Murugaraj.
Actually, the real reason why Murugaraj visits Chennai so often is because he still runs his little advertising agency from there, the earnings of which help him survive. My agency clients are few and small-sized but I get my bread and butter from the business. I do not make any money from the library. With the earnings from the agency, Murugaraj has also employed an assistant to help him run the library. Sometimes there is too much work and I cant do it alone. I also cannot afford to disappoint people at this stage, he says.
Though Vallalar Library has a variety of books, the books most frequently picked up are those on health and self-help. Vallalar Library is on Facebook today and can be found on the web at vallalarlibrary.wordpress.com.
Murugaraj says that MBA taught him planning and organising which helps him run the library methodically. “I may have not learned library management but I have learned about planning ventures and getting work organised while doing my MBA. The learnings come back to me on a daily basis when I deal with people and my library.”
And when asked about why he has still not married, the MBA graduate has an even more modest answer. “I hardly earn anything. Nobody wants to give their daughter in marriage to me,” he says.
But nothing deters Murugaraj. He has his life planned ahead and knows what to do. His mission to get people into the reading habit seems small and insignificant while his colleagues from his MBA class are pursuing big bucks and in big companies. He says that his work makes him happy and his mission gives him the energy to do well everyday and that is far more satisfying than a job in a big multinational or owning a flashy car.