DEHRADUN: The school bell announces the end of the day and 10-year-old Sarita quietly settles down in a nook of the class to open a book. She struggles with some words in " Dum Dum Ki Kursi", a collection of rhymes by Usha Chhabra, and turns to her friend Sachin for help. Together, both of them are able to pronounce the words, and they smile. The Class 4 students at a government primary school in Uttarakhand 's Poth village are the first in their families to read.
Children in cities may be falling out of love with books, but libraries are sprouting in some of the remotest villages in the Himalayan hills, training first-generation learners. Seema Jaunsari, director (academic research and training), Uttarakhand, said that 1,647 libraries in schools - several of them in the remote hills - have been set up since 2007 in eight districts.
"My parents have never even seen a book, forget about reading it. Here, it's the children who tell bedtime stories to their parents," said Sarita, who was born into a family of Ban Rawats - an ethnic minority group in Uttarakhand - in Champawat district 's Poth village, at least 15km from any motorable road.
Her teacher - the lone one at school - Dhanesh Kumar Dhyani said about 21 students are "members" of the library which started functioning out of the government school in 2017. Collection of short stories and poems in Hindi are among the most popular among children.
"Most families in the village are involved in small-scale farming or sell timber. The men and women here can't write their names, but their children can. Reading different types of books is helping students read and understand better as well as aiding their mental development. Today, many of them can read over 60 words per minute with ease, it was not like this before," he said.
The library at Poth with over 700 books, set up with the help of Room to Read, a non-profit focused on children's literacy, has helped students inculcate the habit of reading as well as allowed them to have dreams. Sarita wants to be a teacher when she grows up so she can teach children the importance of reading.
About 500km away in Pilang village of Uttarkashi district , nine-year-old Mohit Rana is learning the nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". So far, he has memorised the first two lines. "Earlier, I didn't know how to read so I used books for colouring. But now I'm reading them."
The village, 16km from the nearest motorable road and located 2,125 feet above sea level, still has no internet or newspapers.