Pages, places and peace

Reading for leisure and pleasure, but also to reclaim physical space and allow healing of the self. CE talks to book lovers in Hyderabad.

Currently, most Indian cities are experiencing a new trend, a group of people meet at a park every week and indulge in silent reading. From Delhi, Pune, Kolkata, the trend has come to Hyderabad as well, allowing people of different age groups to gather at KBR park every Saturday evening and read the books of their choice.

Priyanka Peeramsetty, who started ‘Hyderabad Reads’ with Sloka Chandra, says that the initiative makes “Reading a community endeavour, making the act of reading visual. It helps people know that reading is an acceptable, non-commercial event and a reclamation of our public spaces. It being a silent community makes it inclusive.” Since there are no fee or registration issues, everyone can come with whatever reading material they have: a novel, storybook, academic study material, etc, sit and start reading. “There is no celebration of a particular book or genre, which makes the reading act both personal and universal,” she says.

The choice of a park as a reading space comes with aesthetically pleasing elements, the trees, flowers and even peacocks! However, the idea was to choose a place which was accessible to all. “Being non-commercial and close to nature, choosing a park over a shopping mall or an expensive cafe was intentional. The unintended consequences of it is that most readers don’t use their mobile phones for those few hours and indulge in simple good ol’ reading. However, there are no book discussions or debates. It is not a book club,” says Priyanka.

Krithika Sridharan, a research scholar at IIT Hyderabad says that reading is a personal experience. “A breakout from the regular humdrum,” she says. She prefers reading at home or at college but the ‘comfiest’ place is her bedroom. At college, finding a nook or a corner in a library or, “almost in all floors of our block, there are small breakout spaces where people can work, or even read,” she says.

Pointing out that there is a popular choice even among parks, Krithika says, “People do read, but not in the local ones. In the larger ones which draw some elite crowd. Reading is becoming more and more uncommon among the common folk.” However, she noticed that her daughter’s school promotes reading. “They even have books for the parents to read in the waiting area when they come but sadly enough, neither schools nor families promote reading anymore,” she adds.

Niharika, a business owner, has been a regular at KBR Park for their weekly silent readings. She says that trying to keep up with the pace of her busy life, she rarely finds time to read. Hyderabad Reads provides the time and space to indulge in reading. “I have been reading short stories and try to complete at least one story each time I go. While many of us procrastinate about completing a book or picking new books, this weekly reminder and aesthetics of the park are definitely motivators to take action,” she says.

Yet, meeting at a place every week is a commitment. “I met quite a few readers and it is nice to talk about books and meet new people. However, I stay in Kukatpally and the ride up and down on Saturday through traffic is getting tiresome. I am looking forward to the Botanical Gardens Reads soon. Everyone reads their own book quietly, with occasional Hi’s and Hello’s, which I don’t mind. Lately, I have only been reading at the park. Watching everyone read has its own calming effect,” she says.

While home, college, parks are the most suitable surroundings people choose for reading, there are some who like to browse through bookstores as well. “For me, home is most suitable place for leisure reading,” says Apurva Reddy Machani, a biologist. “I read a lot in the night after my children sleep and the house is quiet. I also enjoy to just lie down in my balcony and read if I am free during the day. If the book is captivating I read all day until I finish! During meals too! I also love browsing through bookstores, which we lack in Hyderabad. I find it very calming in the bookstore with the smell of books around me,” she says.

Sanjana Saxena, a doctor at KIMS Gachibowli (and also a talented poet) says that choice of space matters a lot while reading. “While the place may differ from person to person, I find that being in nature calms me and helps me connect with what I am reading so much better. It could be a park, next to a lake or even in my balcony overlooking the garden. Aesthetically yes, it definitely helps. But more like it gives you an environment where your other senses are not overstimulated and your body finds itself at ease. It could be a personal choice. Other people may find the same at a library,” she says.

Adding to the calming effect reading spaces or spaces made suitable for reading have on people, Pause for Perspective, a mental health organisation has a library of its own. “Pause library is a space where people of all ages are welcome. It is crafted to ensure that we visibilise voices and lived experiences of people that are not often centred. For instance, we have books that centre the lives, both joy and pain of those in the margins, such as Dalit, Adivasi, neurodivergent and queer folks. We also have books on how people worked with abuse, divorce and the journey of coming out. It also helps people of all ages connect to their inner child, allowing for grounding, safety and love to be present. It is a space that hopes to offer solidarity for those that need rest and rejuvenation,” says Aarathi Selvan, the founder of the organisation.

Pause library is intentionally curated in a way that helps people feel safe, adding to the idea of physical spaces being inclusive. “Our space is created in a way where there are options on where people can sit. We have ensured that our floor is carpeted so people can sit on the floor with books around them and read. Warm yellow lights surround our space making it neurodivergentfriendly and gentle on the eyes. We have boxes of stim toys, art supplies, knitting and embroidery basket, as well as board games for people to integrate contemplation as an important part of their reading lives,” concludes Aarathi.

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