West Bengal: Young graduate turns century-old tree into outdoor library

Kids are taking interest in the reading and other activities at the tree library. | Picture by author

The tree library located in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal was started in March and houses more than 200 books in various genres.

Partho Burman | TwoCircles.net

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KOLKATA (WEST BENGAL) — For over five months now, a century-old Siris tree has been serving as an outdoor library in Alipurduar, West Bengal where children, young adults and senior citizens congregate every Sunday. 

Located at European Club Ground in Kalchini Block in the Alipurduar, readers are seen browsing the bookshelves at the tree library named Swaraj. The tree-library houses more than 200 books of fiction, nonfiction, comics and other genres of literature in English, Bengal, Hindu and Nepali. It is thrown open every Sunday from eleven in the morning until two in the afternoon. 

Residents of the neighbourhood gather at the tree library to perform plays, poetry and songs. These events are called ‘Sunday Art-Haat’. 

The tree library was started by a 23-year-old  Nimesh Lama in March this year. While going to college and to the fields to play sports, Lama said he would find drunken people lounging on the ground near the tree. 

“I saw a bunch of crooks engaged in gambling. I had an epiphany. I thought if they can hook up here for the wrong motives, why can’t we work together for the right reasons,” Lama told TwoCircles.net. 

Lama started working on the idea in 2021 when he was in his last year of college. 

“To affect some societal change, I decided to call this library Swaraj. The Hindi word Swaraj, which means self-rule, in my perspective, stands for transformation. Every time it was spoken, a revolution followed,” Lama said. 

He said his childhood dream was to build a museum in honour of India’s freedom fighters. “They are only remembered on their birthdays or their deaths and their visions are lost to time,” he said. 

To set up the tree library, Lama began saving his money. Finally, the tree library began operations in March this year with only 20 books. “Only two to three individuals showed up when I first started this tree library with my 10-year-old cousin Arnab Tamang. But it has now increased to 30. People started donating books after finding us on social media, and a word-of-mouth campaign helped us in growing the collection to over 200 books,” Lama said. 

Lama and his team promotes the idea of reading among kids. | Picture by author

Lama is helped by four people, each one of whom is assigned a task. Some people bring books from their homes, while others hang them on the tree trunk in the form of a shelf, and yet others return the books to their home once the allotted time has passed. 

Lama is also focused on improving trash management around the tree library. His team makes sure that no one uses or discards plastic on the ground. They have kept an earthen pot for water as plastic water bottles are not allowed. 

“I objected to the request made by some individuals to affix iron nails to the tree to hang books. As a substitute, a light-weight bookcase is connected to a string that is wound around the tree,” Lama said. 

Lama’s tree library is slowly being noticed in Alipurduar as he is getting phone calls from many people asking him to open a public library in the area. 

“I am not in a position to set up another library at the moment. But I do have a long-term plan to do it. Currently, I am focused on preparing for the civil service as well as applying for a degree in social work,” he added.

Partho Burman is an award-winning independent journalist based in Kolkata. He writes inspirational, motivational and environmental stories. He tweets at @ParthoBurman