“People in my village do not pursue studies. Where is the time? Hunger makes them toil all day. That’s why I thought if I can somehow initiate them to reading,” a 96-year-old Polan Sarkar had once shared. He himself could not complete school but had been making the poorest of poor of Bangladesh read for the past 30 years. Recognised and revered as the ‘Walking Library’ or Alor Ferrywala (‘Peddler of Lights’) in his motherland Bangladesh, noted social activist Polan Sarkar breathed his last on March 1, 2019, at 98.
In our pursuit to celebrate the unsung heroes from around the world, Efforts For Good brings you the incredible story of Polan Sarkar.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
Polan Sarkar: A school dropout with a book addiction
Born as Harez Uddin Sarkar on September 9, 1921, in an obscure village of Natore, Bangladesh, Polan Sarkar got popular in later life with the nickname fondly given by his mother. Five months after his birth, his father passed away, leaving the family helpless in a sea of poverty. Financial constraints did not permit Polan to pursue his education beyond the sixth standard. However, a young Polan had already picked up an addiction, the addiction for reading.
As a young adult, Polan joined a folk theatre group and acted in small comic roles. His deep passion for reading made him take care of all the literary essentials of their work – be it writing the manuscripts or being a prompter from backstage. While penning new plays and skits, Polan came across a treasure trove of the regional literature which only fuelled his love for books.
Meanwhile, his family was receiving financial support from an affluent relative.
Distributing books among village students
As luck would have it, soon his benefactor lost all their property, leaving Polan and his family at a helpless juncture once again. He secured the job of a committee chowkidar, which involved walking village after village to collect taxes.