Among the many dreams Vasanthan, an Arts student at Madras Christian College, had was starting a library in his father’s village in Tiruchirappalli. But fate didn’t give him a chance to make it happen. The young man met with a fatal accident.
However, Vasanthan’s parents Sudha and M. Ulaga Oli, who are also avid readers, wouldn't let their boy's dream fade away. They found it difficult to set up a library in Tiruchirappalli, but did the next best thing. In 2015, one year after his death, they established the Vasanthan Library at their home at Sivan Koil Street in Kodambakkam, to honour his memory.
The library today helps hundreds of young people in their academic pursuits and to determine a career path too. "Looking back at these seven years, as parents we feel happy and proud. Vasanthan Library is not just a library. It is a centre where children, youngsters, and even some old people come and enjoy books, share their emotions and personal life with others, and leave de-stressed," says Sudha, who was a banker and Tamil news reader.
"When we started, it was just the books from Vasanthan’s and his dad's collection. Later, with our friends' help and donations we procured more books. At one time we had over 5000 books," says Sudha, adding, "we support new independent libraries started by individuals or associations, and sometimes donate books from our collection to them, so our inventory now stands at around 3000."
Sudha and Ulaga Oli also started organising community activities such as drawing competitions, talk shows and interactive sessions by subject experts for kids every Saturday and on occasions too. Sudha provides career guidance and helps youngsters find jobs suited to their qualifications. Those preparing for Civil Service exams initially made use of Vasanthan's books as he was also preparing for the competitive examination. "Since those books are outdated, each year we acquire new books," says Sudha.
Though the library doesn’t lend books, reference books are always in high demand and the collection at Vasanthan Library helps it stand out. The family sold their car and turned the parking area into a reading room. With the spacious hall and the parking space they can accommodate 10 to 15 people at a time.
The pandemic brought new challenges, but they were creatively handled. Digitally recorded books for kids is a new project Vasanthan Library has embarked on in its YouTube channel. "We have been getting help from volunteers, especially teachers, to read and record the books, and we now need volunteers who can edit and produce videos to go with the audio clips. We have recordings of academic books for students till Class X," Sudha says.
Pasumai Vasantham is another project - they distribute seeds and saplings to schools and individuals. An online school is also being explored for the past one year. "The Vasanthan Library online school associates with various schools to coach students in different subjects. We call our teachers ‘knowledge sharers’, they all are volunteers from different parts of the world. So far, more than 500 children from various parts of Tamil Nadu including students from Adi Dravida Welfare Schools have been benefitted," she adds.