The sleepy village of Bhilar, in the heart of Maharashtra's famed 'strawberry country' will soon get another identity as India's first "book village", Education Minister Vinod Tawde said here on Friday.
Inspired by Britain's Hay-on-Wye, the state government has decided to convert the village near the twin hill-stations of Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani into a readers's paradise.
"Preparations are completed and the country's first-ever 'book village' will be inaugurated on May 4 by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis," Tawde told media persons.
Located around 250 kms or five hours drive from Mumbai and five kms before the climb to Panchgani, Bhilar boasts of a year-round salubrious climate, lush greenery and surrounded by hundreds of acres of strawberry farms which turn a dazzling pink during the winter cropping season.
"The government has financed around 15,000 books to be kept there permanently for the public at around 25 key locations around the village of 600 families. Anybody can simply pick up a book of his/her choice, read for as long as they want and keep it back for the others," said Tawde on the unique concept.
The government has also provided a suitable reading ambience comprising glass cupboards, chairs, tables, tee-poys, large decorative umbrellas, etc to make the experience pleasant for book connoisseurs.
The 25 book hotspots in the village have been decked up into 'mini-libraries' and 75 artists have creatively designed the 25 locations with support from Asian Paints Ltd, he added.
Initially, the books ranging from literature, poetry, religious, women and children oriented subjects, history, environment, folk literature, biographies and autobiographies to festival specials shall be available in Marathi and after a couple of months other languages will be introduced.
"The initiative will help people, especially among the younger generations to imbibe the reading habits and rekindle the interest in our country's rich literary heritage and culture," said Tawde.
The state government had committed on February 27, 2015 – Marathi Language Day – to launch a 'book village' in the state, on the lines of Britain's immensely popular Hay-on-Wye book village and literary festivals concept.
After lot of deliberations, Bhilar village in Satara district, was selected to be India's first 'book village'.
The next phase would be organising literary festivals comprising book and poetry reading sessions, writing, publishing and teaching workshops, exhibitions, debates, discussions with literary personalIties and other literature-culture programmes to popularise the concept in India.
Starting with a lone bookstore in 1962, Hay-on-Wye village was bursting with bookshops by 1970s, earning the sobriquet of 'Town of Books'.
Later, it developed into a centre for literature and literary 'Hay Festivals' attracting top writers and celebrities from all over the world, besides sponsorship from top media and publishing houses.
Over the years, the Hay Festivals have spread to Italy, Spain, Peru, Colombia, Denmark, Mexico, Kenya, The Maldives and other countries.
The next Hay Festival in Britain is scheduled to start from May 25.