Delhiwale: The readers’ collective


A woman in hat is reading a Mahasweta Devi paperback, with the centuries-old Bada Gumbad monument as her backdrop.

The Lodhi Garden park in Delhi.
The Lodhi Garden park in Delhi.

So far, so ordinary. Reading in park is a regular Lodhi Garden thing. But something else is going on right now. Another person is sitting close to the hatted reader, also reading a paperback. And another reader, another, another, another. It can’t be a book club in which the attendees read and noisily discuss the same book. Here each person is carrying a different book, and all are as quiet as a grave. The scene is surreal, straight out of a slow-motion dream.

It is the tenth meet of Lodhi Reads that meets every Saturday evening in Lodhi Garden from 4.30 to 7.30. The community (they don’t call it a “club”) was founded in January by two Bangalore wale, baker Shruti Sah and entrepreneur Harsh Snehanshu, in that city’s Cubbon Park. Cubbon Reads’s Delhi chapter was launched three months later, with the Instagram handle @lodhireads exhorting citizens to come “with a mat & a book to read in silence together.”

Oh look, more folks are coming over with books, mats and even pillows.

By now, this patch of green grass and frangipani trees have grown into an archipelago of many mats. One reader in a circle of six is lying down bookless, arms crossed, gaze up towards the sky—see photo. (Actually, master’s student Nidhi Joshi did bring a book to read— Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.)

Look around, and every single reader seems unconscious of others. They could as well be at home, swathed in solitude and immersion—which by the way is impossible these days, particularly at home. Our routines textured into smartphone alerts and Netflix binge watching, the ability to strike communion with an author has become elusive. This communal way of publicly committing to read feels like a bold attempt to delve forcefully into a book.

Whatever, reading silently with a company of silent readers gives a sense of community with no pressure to talk—remarks social researcher Ritika Chawla, briefly withdrawing her attention from Granta, volume 58. She co-anchors the reading “community” with media professional Nabiha Tasnim.

Later, as the session ends, the silent readers start talking, chuckling, clicking. A magic spell has broken.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Bada Gumbad monument, a woman is sitting alone on a bench, absorbed in a Hwang Sok-yong novel, slowly becoming one with the book and with the evening.

PS: There’s Gurgaon Reads too, which meets every Saturday at Leisure Valley Park. Noida Reads meets every Sunday evening at Meghdootam Park.

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