Aurangbad: In a world where children are increasingly immersed in smartphones and electronic devices, Mirza Maryam, a 12-year-old girl from Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, is dedicated to reviving book reading among today’s technology-focused generation. A passionate book lover, Maryam has taken it upon herself to establish a library for children, using books from her personal collection.
Maryam set up a “Mohalla (mini) library” in a slum neighborhood, aiming to inspire children to embrace the joy of reading. Her idea got remarkable traction. Within a year, starting on January 8, 2021, she opened 35 Mohalla Libraries in various locations around Aurangabad, which is a historic town known for its cultural and knowledge heritage. Recently, the district’s name was changed to please the hard-core Hindutva forces.
Maryam’s journey began two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic when she set up the first library, the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Library, on the balcony of her family’s home in Baijipura locality. With approximately 300 books from her personal collection, she reintroduced children to the world of reading through these libraries.
During the coronavirus lockdown, when schoolwork was put on hold, Maryam noticed many bored children in her neighborhood. She approached her father, Mirza Abdul Qayyum, who owns the well-known book store, Mirza World Book House, for support. Mirza readily backed his daughter’s initiative. He is also associated with the Read and Learn Foundation (RLF), a group dedicated to promoting reading among children. The foundation’s objectives aligned perfectly with its vision of starting libraries for kids.
Together, Maryam and her father established the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Library on their balcony, gathering around 300 books through donations and contributions. The library’s opening was attended by local children, who eagerly began borrowing books and returning them within a week.
The success of the first library prompted the father-daughter duo to consider opening a second library in a different location. With the support of the RLF, the second library was established in the Rahemaniya Colony with an additional 300 books. The response from the community was positive, further fueling Maryam’s determination to start more libraries.
Driven by her desire to help children living in slums, Maryam enlisted the support of her college student sisters and began seeking donations from the public. With contributions from neighbours and other generous individuals, Maryam was able to purchase a cabinet, books, and stationery to maintain proper records for the libraries. Each donation of Rs. 5,000 brought her closer to her goal.
The libraries were set up in various locations, such as the Anganwadi center, a spot in the schoolyard, a mosque, or even a kind neighbour’s room. While some communities initially expressed skepticism about the concept of a Mohalla library, Maryam and her team worked hard to change their perspective. They engaged in discussions about the value of reading and how it positively shapes children’s personalities, ultimately inspiring the communities to embrace the idea.
Maryam’s father highlighted that one unique aspect of these libraries is that they attract readers by offering books in Urdu and Marathi. The libraries are open for an hour every evening and provide a wide range of books. Children have shown great responsibility in ensuring borrowed books are returned on time and in good condition. Both adults and the neighbours, who occasionally help the kids keep the libraries up, have been impressed by their dedication.
Furthermore, Maryam and her father engaged in awareness campaigns on important issues such as girls’ education and ending child labour. The community’s cooperation has been evident in some areas.
Maryam’s initiative is gaining momentum throughout Maharashtra, with her efforts inspiring others to follow suit. Even the Telangana State Urdu Academy has established a children’s section to encourage young readers.
Even the initiative of Mohalla Library attracted foreign scholars. Recently two research scholars from Germany visited the library and discussed the various issues related to the library project.
Her endeavour has encouraged others, with scores of people turning up to her for ideas to open libraries in their respective localities. More than 10,000 children have so far benefited from the efforts put in by the teenage girl.
With a determined mission and a powerful motto of “Give me Rs 10,000, and I’ll give you a library,” Maryam is dedicated to expanding her impact. Her goal is to open 30 more libraries by 2023, aiming for a total of 50 libraries.
Each library in the mohalla is named after renowned Urdu writers, poets, or other notable personalities. Some libraries bear the names of the parents of generous donors who sponsor an entire library, adding a personal touch to these community spaces.
Nobody overlooked Maryam’s remarkable efforts. In 2022, the American Federation of Muslims of Indian (AFMI) Origin bestowed upon her an award. Former Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung presented her with the award at the AFMI’s annual conference in New Delhi.
In May 2023, she was awarded the Mukta Samman by News 18 Lokmat in Mumbai. At the Mumbai awards ceremony, Maryam read a poem by Safdar Hashmi called “Kitabein” to great applause. Despite the recognition and attention she has received, she admits that her father’s bookstore has profited greatly from her library project because most of the books are purchased there. Maryam is currently a student at Aurangabad’s Iqra Urdu Girls High School. She’s interested in becoming a neurosurgeon. Among her favorite books are the Harry Potter series. When she’s not reading, she also likes to color and paint.
Similar projects have been sparked by her efforts in the neighboring towns of Aurangabad, including Jalna, Beed, Jalgaon, and Ahmednagar. As of right now, there are 35 Mohallah libraries in Aurangabad, 15 in Parbhani, and 5 in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh.