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How a writer-illustrator duo is trying to democratize literature

The duo prints quotes written by the likes of Shakespeare and Salman Rushdie on posters, and pastes them across cities

A StickLit poster with a quote by Salman Rushdie. Photo: Manoj Pande
A StickLit poster with a quote by Salman Rushdie. Photo: Manoj Pande

As you walk along a narrow by-lane in Delhi’s Khirki Extension, your attention is drawn to posters on the wall that display quotes in Hindi and English. These have been put up by StickLit, an initiative started by Nidhin Kundathil, 31, and Manoj Pandey, 33, freelance illustrator and writer, respectively.

“All art is quite useless," goes an Oscar Wilde quote on a poster stuck on a wall between a butcher’s shop and a tea stall. “The butcher there felt a little scared, even feared arrest. But we managed to convince him about the cause," says Pandey.

Pandey, who hails from Kalimpong, and Kundathil, who is from Kerala, hit upon the idea eight months ago, during a discussion on reading. “We thought pasting quotes on walls, trees, thelas (carts) and small tea shops would evoke a certain emotion from people," says Pandey.

The Delhi-based initiative chooses quotations from books or poems, prints these out on A4-size pages, signs off with “StickLit", and pastes the posters in public places. They have pasted quotes from writers such as George Orwell, Shashi Tharoor and Salman Rushdie.

The duo says they want to reclaim art and literature and “remove the elitism associated with reading". It is, in other words, their way of taking art and literature to the masses.

They seem to have found a ready audience in readers, office-goers and students, on social media too, and people have started volunteering to create their own posters. The initiative has already travelled to cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Pune, Darjeeling and parts of Kerala, as well as to London, Philadelphia, Amsterdam and Kathmandu.

In March, Kundathil and Pandey even made and distributed close to 50 T-shirts at traffic signals near the Qutub Minar and Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The T-shirts were printed with lines like “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well-written or badly written" by Oscar Wilde, and a couplet by an ordinary rickshaw-puller, Riyazat Ullah Khan, “Dam ghut’ta hai ghut kar hi reh jayega, afsos ki iss ghar mein aangan hi nahi hai."

“Reading and art should be available for everyone," says Pandey. “Whether someone is travelling or standing idle, they should be able to read, even if it is a pastime."

How do they select the quotes? He says, “We go by our gut, and pick up a line or two that we think will be easy to read and will resonate with readers." The quotations vary from the obscure to the well-known.

The posters, all in English, usually comprise a quote in bold capital letters, with a graphic illustration to attract attention.

Around the world, 140 people have so far contributed to making and pasting posters. Their ability to engage a cross-section of people “really gave us a kick", says Kundathil. “The overall aim was to initiate a dialogue. We wanted Shakespeare to be read by everyone."

It’s students and readers who are taking the movement forward, says Pandey. The volunteer-driven project, funded by the two founders, has put up more than 700 posters in the country. So far, they haven’t run into any trouble with the authorities.

StickLit has also garnered applause from authors. In February, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted a photograph of a StickLit poster in Darjeeling, saying, “Pleased to see my one-sentence story for #StickLit up on the wall at Darjeeling Railway Station!" The quote read: “Gandhi saw the misery of partition and broke his vow of silence. He wept."

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