Myth says that the philosopher's stone was a substance that could turn ordinary metal into gold.
While the residents of Mamudkathi may not have literally struck gold, they have found some kind of a philosopher's stone in the form of a library.
The Anirban Library, set up by four local students three decades ago, has changed the lives of many villagers -- transforming the illiterate into literate, those financially deprived to self-sufficient.
Villagers' access to education and employment have increased significantly since the library was set up in 1990 in remote Mamudkathi village of Khulna's Paikgachha upazila.
One former member is Faruk Hossain Mahaldar of Jeley Para in Mamudkathi, who is now working at Bangladesh Railway on graduating from a Khulna college.
"I have been involved in various activities of the library since my childhood. I used to come here and read books whenever I had time.
"The activities of the library have opened my eyes. It has changed the lives of our Jeley Para inhabitants," he said.
Faruk is not the only villager to attain higher education.
Former general secretary of the library, Ramkrishna Debnath, cannot hide his happiness when talking about the library's contributions in the area.
He said he was the second man from the village to attend the University of Dhaka and now many others are studying at the same seat of learning as well as at other universities and medical colleges.
The library also contributed to combating child marriage in the area, he said.
"Due to the joint efforts of all and activities of the library, child marriage and dropout rate from schools have decreased significantly. Library-centric activities have inspired all," Ramkrishna added.
FROM ONE ROOM TO A FOUR-STOREY BUILDING
The library officially started its journey on December 10, 1990, in one room inside a local temple in Mamudkathi.
It was founded by Joydeb Kumar Bhadra, now an additional DIG of police, and Manik Bhadra of Sonatankati village, Bishwakarma Mandal of Mamudkathi village, and Mrinal Ghosh of Haridhali village.
Joydeb Bhadra was then a Rajshahi University student, but due to the countrywide movement against dictator HM Ershad at the time, his university remained closed amid the political unrest.
"As a result, I had to stay at home most of the time. I felt the urge to do something for the children of the area -- so, I planned to set up a library with some friends."
Local school and college teachers and students soon became involved -- some donated books from their own collections and later, door-to-door campaigns were conducted to collect money to buy new books.
In 2016, the one-room library was shifted from the temple to a newly built four-storey building.
MORE THAN A LIBRARY
Now evolved into a charity with donations from former members and more, it is not only a hub for knowledge creation with access to books and computers -- it also provides free healthcare, free language classes and learning opportunities, and conducts public awareness campaigns on a variety of issues.
Anirban currently has 7,000 books in its collection and operates from 10:00am to 10:00pm daily. Both members and visitors have access to computers and internet in the library.
It has a 250-seat hall room and a healthcare centre on the ground floor, the main library and computer lab on the second floor, and eight guest rooms on the third floor.
Bidhan Bhadra of Mamudkathi, now assistant professor of English at Jashore MM College, said the library has played a huge role in his life.
"The impact of the library movement has also spread to other upazilas," he added.
Anirban has directly and indirectly touched the lives of villagers in at least 10 upazilas in Khulna and Satkhira districts, said Provat Debnath, general secretary of the library.
The library provides stipends to meritorious students to help with their educational expenses and regularly holds book reading, poetry recitation, and music competitions, and sports events. Young people also have access to information such as on employment opportunities and on agriculture-related issues.
Members of the library also do important social work -- last year, for example, they helped villagers affected by Cyclone Amphan, founder Joydeb told The Daily Star.
They distributed 15 sewing machines to poor women, paddy seeds to 2,500 affected farmers, and corrugated tin worth Tk 2 lakh to the poor for rebuilding their shelters.
The library regularly organises free health camps for locals, tree plantation programmes, and public awareness programmes on a myriad of issues.
The library members have also set up a blood-donation agency, a goat farm to make Anirban volunteers financially self-sufficient, and are taking steps to make a bird sanctuary, added Provat.
In 2014, the library got recognition as a 'Ka' category library from Jatiya Grantha Kendra due to its various social and cultural activities.
It was also allocated a grant of Tk 10 lakh from the cultural affairs ministry in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.