Sagar Sharma, a Hyderabad-based entrepreneur, has a date at Vengal Rao Park, on August 20, 5 p.m. What draws him there is a love for words that he shares with a tribe of book lovers. “The meetup is a way to connect, discuss, share books and introduce ourselves to new genres,” says Sagar, founder of Hyderabad Book Club (HBC).
Launched in January 2016, HBC is one of the oldest reading meetups with 2,634 members, an avenue for like-minded people to expand their reading canvas. “I used to read a lot during my college days and continued to read in my free time even after I joined a corporate. I thought a book club would be a great opportunity for me to meet people who share my interests and explore more books and genres,” explains Sagar about his inspiration to launch a meetup page for the club.
The two-hour, fortnightly sessions that drew around 60 people at Vengal Rao Park (or Phoneix Arena) on Sunday evenings turned into a four-hour monthly meetup that was not limited to books. “We used to discuss a new movie, web series, or other culture-related stuff,” says Sagar. The meetups turned into relaxed extended evenings with members even heading out for dinner and drinks. Some members of the book club started a movie club too.
Manas Teja, Sagar’s friend, had organised these online meetups for the past two years and the sessions were halted for the past six months on account of personal reasons; however, they are set to resume shortly. Says Sagar, “I noticed that people who were part of this group read a lot more than they would have previously. With meetups, they get to explore different genres and new books.”
Have coffee, exchange a book
Step into Ofen cafe at Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, and you will notice a bookshelf in the vicinity of the barista counter. This shelf is an initiative by the Cafe, in association with Turn the Page book club, to encourage its visitors to drop an old book of theirs and pick up a book from the shelf.
Nishant Malapatti, owner of Ofen, says visitors have been engaging in an informal book exchange on their own and there is no policing involved at all. “I have observed eight out of 10 customers stepping closer to read the note near the shelf and browse the books. About five out of 10 pick up a book to read while at the cafe. At least three take a book with them and return later to replace it with one of their own books. Some return a few days later once they have read a book and replace it.”
Periodically, Turn the Page book club posts short reviews and recommendations of books on one of the racks on the bookshelf.
The book exchange idea came about when Nishant and Amrita Chak of Turn the Page rued the lack of enough lending libraries and reading rooms in Hyderabad. They took a leaf out of the Little Free Library concept in the United States of America, through which anyone can sign up and install a birdhouse-like box filled with books at the entrance of their home or in public spaces. It acts as a lending library for passersby. A similar concept exists in Bengaluru too.
“We began the book exchange initiative at our cafe on June 15,” says Nishant, who intends to position Ofen as an interactive space. He plans to transform the area near the barista counter into a small lending library by adding more bookshelves. The only concern till now, he says, is that many come forward to donate their old books but do not want to pick up new ones from the shelves! “We had to stop people from trying to donate their old books. We want people to exchange books and read, not hand over books they no longer need.”
“I am a serial community creator,” laughs Faraaz Farshori, founder of Die Hard Book Readers, a group of book lovers who meet every Saturday around 5 pm at Lamakaan to read, discuss, exchange, and swap books. The success of connecting people with shared interests in movies, food, and traveling online encouraged him to start one for book lovers too.
Launched in November 2022, the group with 400 members had virtual meetups before starting physical sessions in June. From event managers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, and software professionals, the group curated by Noor Fatima has people from all walks of life meeting at a venue and a time decided online.
In each of the five 90-minute meetups held so far, a session had involved a member talking about the author of a selected book, reading a chapter or story for 30 minutes, followed by a discussion. One such recent session had Suhas Tathagat reading Raavi Paar by Gulzar. “Book Reading is an enlightening way of developing a skill, getting a better perspective and improving language. My job requires language skills, which book reading gives me access to,” says Faraaz, a software solutions architect and the regional admin of Urban Sketchers in Hyderabad.
The sessions are relaxing for book lovers especially for those hard-pressed for time to read. “I’ve got feedback from members that the session rejuvenates them, diverts them from other aspects of life. Through the story they listen to, they get engrossed in someone else’s life. Meeting like-minded people in the group and rekindling the habit of reading has a positive impact.
Faraaz hopes this weekend activity will attract more members to indulge in this pastime. “Imagination has had a collateral damage in this digital age where ideas flow from all directions. Reading as a habit is critical for one’s growth, stability and to develop mindfulness.” Since it is a new group they have had only five sessions till now. Based on members’ discussion online regarding the books they read and experiences shared, curator Noor Fatima and Faraaz select the book to discuss during meetups. The discussions are usually cordial with members sharing the things they liked in a book.