When I was introduced to Pushpendra Pandya, initially it was to his corporate avatar. Soon enough, I was drawn to huge piles of colourful books on his office desk and pretending to chat him up, I actually would check out the tomes. And it was this mutual love for books that led him to reveal his real identity. He is the heart, soul and brain behind India's first ever crowd-sourced library, a nameless venture made up of pre-loved books that are dropped at your doorstep gratis. He also informed me that this library also accepted donations of old books that you would rather not hand over to a raddiwallah.
Books, books everywhere
This happenstance also opened my eyes to the breathing tribe of bibliophiles who sit at coffee shops, after office hours, to read their volumes over a peaceful cuppa or fight to win a seat on their return journey home in locals to pack those 30 pages in a day’s schedule. I also began to notice ads inviting book-lovers to meet and interact with other like-minded creatures in a relaxed atmosphere. So are book clubs on the rise in the city? And, that too, at a time when books are said to be on the wane! Are the people gravitating towards these clubs just lonely souls looking to connect and bond over a common love?
It’s all in the mind
Radhika, a fellow bibliophile, believes, “Book lovers are by nature an aloof, shy tribe. At least I am! I have always wanted to join a book club like the Juhu Book Club or Bound Together, but in the end the urge to tuck into your couch with your chosen paperback is way stronger than chasing around the city and meeting other folks to hear what they think about the book you want to read. If you want to read a book, just read it, I say!” Well, given the heavy showers over the last week, we can’t really dispute that argument.
This is a sign that there could be many people who hate to travel yet love to bond over books with others from the comfort of their homes. No wonder, online book clubs across social media channels, with or without offline meets, are thriving.
Where there’s a will…
Vikrant partly agrees that what the heart wants is not what the heart always gets. “When my sister was studying in Los Angeles, she would accompany her friends to the Pen America book club meetings. Hearing about the lively discussions between members, and the occasional guest authors in attendance, I dreamt of joining a book club,” he remembers.
So did he? He smiles, “My first job was in town and I did the rounds of the Mumbai chapter of The PEN and quite a few other book clubs. I found few 9-to-5ers like me at the meets, and soon discovered why. Once I changed jobs to come closer home to the suburbs, it became a chore to head to town on weekends to attend meets and after a while, I stopped.”
So that’s how it ends? “Actually, I got lucky closer home. Some of my school buddies moved closer to my residence and we began to meet informally to discuss books. Soon word got out; a few strangers joined us and became friends over books. Even now, we have a smallish group meeting every other Saturday evening at some member’s house over some drinks, snacks and books. I hope we can keep up the practice. I love the company we share in this group, and I hope other members feel the same.”
If the motto of Pushpendra’s crowd-sourced library is 'Books for the people, by the people', then these book clubs will go one step further and say, ‘among the people, too’! For those who say book-reading faces the threat of extinction, these book clubs are making sure they are proved wrong. Just take a look at the list of book clubs in Mumbai, check out the literary trends (book exchange initiatives on social media or the blind book date events) that flare up, and then sustain in their own sub-cultures, and you will know that even in its book-reading solitude, humanity has found company in book clubs.