When I moved to Mumbai in 2013, the first thing I tried to locate was a good bookshop (ala Midland or now closed Fact & Fiction in Delhi). I found that Strand and select roadside book sellers were popular with college students. But air-conditionally challenged professionals cannot survive 35 degrees (and atmospheric humidity > 30%) for longer than 10 minutes so I continued looking.
My quest led me to some good stores – Kitab Khana in Fort, Title Waves in Bandra, Prithvi Café Juhu and Landmark in Andheri –where, if you hunt with patience, you might chance upon some side works by Jose Saramago or J.G Ballard. But in most other bookshops I was left riffling through romance novels written by IIT boys or browsing series of ‘How to…’ books written by ‘successful’ bankers/dietitians/entrepreneurs/etceteras. This experience almost convinced me that the city hated reading with a vengeance. That is, till I decided to find readers and start a book club.
Under the banner of Desi Writers’ Lounge (DWL) – a volunteer group dedicated to supporting young and emerging writers and poets from South Asia – I decided to host Mumbai’s first DWL Readers’ Club. The plan was simple – lock down a venue for the event and invite attendance through Facebook. Part 1 was not easy. In a city where thoughts jostle for space, real estate is hard to come by. Most bookshops/event venues charge for use and coffee shops/restaurants cram up by 10 am (the air-conditioning issue, remember?). Much sniffing around led me to Paaji’s Express – a small Punjabi restaurant with faux pind décor and what sounded like Ludhiana Top 10 playing on the stereo. Turns out the owner, a chic 30 something was a kindred book spirit and offered to lend the entire space for one evening. Venue, check!
The DWL MRC event went live and got quite a bit of traction. I was enthused by the interest and, the day before the event, 63 people indicated they were ‘Going’ for the MRC ice breaker. Side note, I knew 63 would definitely not come (also, Paaji’s has a seating capacity of 30 so the balance would have to sit in the kitchen if we went over that number), but on the day, I was curious to see not how many, but who showed up. The event was slated to start at 5.30 pm which Mumbaikars understand as starting at 6.15 pm and so they would plan to show up at 7. In defiance of this norm, all those who had registered showed up on time and the Mumbai Readers’ Club got off to a good start with fifteen members!
In a period of two hours, we talked about characters in fiction we found most memorable, what those characters desired or feared, how we identified with them and which books we had read last. As is inevitable, Bollywood made a cameo in the discussion, but what emerged most strongly was everyone’s interest in good stories that were told beautifully. To conclude, we solicited book titles and drew lots to pick a book to read in October. It was overall wonderful to meet people who would travel two hours on a train just to come for an ice breaker because they really really wanted to talk books with like-minded others. It was even better to remind myself that 45 others had expressed an interest in joining a book club.
So, going forward, I am excited to see where the Mumbai club will go. We already have some writers on board, and there is tremendous potential for something like this to become an interactive space for readers and writers across the city. With 15 members, it is a modest start but I tell myself, small milate jao, large banate jao.