It is a few minutes past mid-day at Cubbon Park, where the 300-acre green space provides respite from the sun’s oppressive heat, offering shade and relief to its occupants. Next to a sprawling banyan tree within the park, a scattered group of over 300 people are seated on towels and mats. Most of them have a book opened in their hands. A few others chat with closed books next to them. One of them sketches a tree. The vibe is tranquil. The scenery is serene. It is similar to Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, ASunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which portrays a leisurely scene in 19th-century Paris. The members of Cubbon Reads have been meeting this way every Saturday since the beginning of this year.
Last December, Shruti Sah and Harsh Snehanshu began cycling to Cubbon Park on Saturdays. They would cycle there, spend some time at the park, and return. Once when they posted photos of them reading there on Instagram, a few of their friends asked if they could join them. So, they made a page called Cubbon Reads and invited people. Six of them turned up for the first meetup. It reduced to five in the next week. In the third week, only one of them turned up. Shruti and Harsh wondered if they should stop this.
“We decided to go on, however, even if it is just the two of us,” says Harsh. “But more people started joining through Instagram and by seeing us read at Cubbon Park.”
Every Saturday, between 9 am and 2 pm, people assemble at Cubbon Park with books, a mat, and some snacks, to read under the canopy of trees. “Some of those who stay till the afternoon, end up having lunch together. They have their own little sub-groups,” says Shruti.
Shruti and Harsh, however, do not like to call Cubbon Reads a ‘book club’. For, according to Harsh, book clubs usually have more talkers than readers. “An introvert cannot fit in such a setup. So, we want Cubbon Reads to be more silent. We think reading is a very personal experience and we’d like to keep it that way.”
If, however, you want to be a part of a more conventional book club under the treetop cover of Cubbon Park, then you could consider joining the Cubbon Book Club (CBC), started by Preksha Sharma and Ankit Kumar last November. Its members meet on the last Sunday of every month. Though they, like most book clubs, discuss a book occasionally, Preksha says there are no rigid rules. “People can do whatever they feel like. It’s very flexible. We see it as a safe space for people to socialise.”
Making social connections
A few things set these two apart from conventional book clubs in the city. One of the key differences is the setting itself. Book clubs often meet in homes, libraries, or cafes, while these two clubs utilise the open-air environment of a public park. This outdoor setting offers a more relaxed atmosphere, fostering a sense of connection with nature and providing a change of scenery from traditional indoor spaces. It also encourages people from diverse backgrounds to meet and share different perspectives and experiences.
Before attending her first CBC session, Divya Uthup, a marketing professional, thought she would be amidst a bunch of techies. She was pleasantly surprised to find a philosopher and an environmentalist, among others. “We discussed topics ranging from economics to the impact of AI. It was fun to get these diverse perspectives,” she says.
Both CBC and Cubbon Reads also foster new friendships. Twitter user @_waabi_saabi_ (who did not want to reveal her actual name), for instance, says her mental health improved after joining a sub-group of CBC called Bangalore Aesthetics on WhatsApp. “People used to post photos of sunrises and sunsets and talk about how one can cultivate a sense of awe towards life. It is nice to be in a group of relative strangers looking out for each other,” she says.
Meanwhile, you do not even have to be a reader to join Cubbon Reads. Ambarish Sivasubramanian, a multidisciplinary artist, for instance, sketches a tree at the park every time he attends a session. “I am not into books. I have just read one book in my life. It’s difficult for me to read. So, I just sketch. I find it more comfortable sketching with this group than with other artists,” he says.
Both CBC and Cubbon Reads have steadily grown over the last few months. The former has over 4,000 followers on Twitter and 750 on Instagram. And the latter has over 20,000 followers on Instagram.
One of the CBC meetups was attended by Harini Nagendra, the author of the novel The Bangalore Detectives Club. Preksha plans to invite more authors to meet the CBC members. The 21st edition of the Cubbon Reads meetup, meanwhile, had over 400 participants.
Both reading groups want to encourage reading in public spaces. Other chapters of Cubbon Reads in public parks are also sprouting up within the city (like Lalbagh Reads, HSR Reads, Whitefield Reads, Yelahanka Reads, Bhartiya City Reads), in other cities (like Pune Reads, Juhu Reads, Kolkata Reads, Hyderabad Reads and Lodhi Reads), and even outside the country (like Kuala Lumpur Reads in Malaysia and Regent Reads in London).
“Our larger vision is to fill the whole park with readers and make reading a cool public activity,” says Harsh. He then points to a large banyan tree, near which the Cubbon Reads members usually meet. “You see that tree? When we started meeting, it was nearly leafless. Now, it’s full of leaves. We’d like to see it as a sign of growth of this reading community.”