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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Coimbatore Reads: A silent reading community to find new books and friends


The silence of Coimbatore Reads — a bunch of people who assemble to read at Bharathi Park every Sunday between 9am and 11am — is near-meditative. Like still water revealing what lies beneath its surface, being in the quietness of the group helps one become aware of surrounding sounds: two quarrelling birds, a distant cough, a boisterous giggle through a phone’s loudspeaker, and a political debate among three elderly walkers from the park’s perimeter, among others. Despite these distractions, you quickly find yourself returning to your book due to the presence of fellow readers. It’s almost as if the passion for reading is infectious.

Coimbatore Reads is one of the many chapters of Cubbon Reads, which has kicked off a silent reading movement in several parts of the world. The inception of this growing trend was purely impromptu. Last December, Shruti Sah and Harsh Snehanshu began cycling to Cubbon Park, Bengaluru, on Saturdays. They would cycle there, spend some time at the park, and return. Once 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 has now grown into many chapters (such as Coimbatore Reads, Bessy Reads (in Chennai), New Jersey Reads, etc.) and sub-chapters (like Cubbon Knits, Cubbon Eats, Cubbon Paints, etc.), including thousands of people.

A new chapter

Nivedha Krishnaraj, a software professional and one of the founding members of Coimbatore Reads, came across Cubbon Reads when she was in Germany earlier this year. “This got me thinking about how we spend our days in India. Our idea of going out has become tied to spending money. We go to malls, theatres, or restaurants,” she says, “In Germany, people would seize the opportunity of a good-weather day, going outdoors and doing whatever they pleased. They’ll go for a run or walk in a park. They’d set up mats and gather in various parts of the city, relishing each other’s company and the environment. I was thinking of doing something similar in Coimbatore. That’s when I came across Cubbon Reads. I messaged them to see if I can start its Coimbatore chapter.”

Nivedha was not the only one. Akalya, a lawyer, and Arathi Dileep also messaged the founders of Cubbon Reads about starting something similar in Coimbatore. So, the three of them set up the Coimbatore Reads Instagram page together.

Now, they needed a place to meet. There couldn’t find a park as green and expansive as Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park. “We don’t have a place like that [Cubbon Park] in our city,” says Akalya. “We have the Ukkadam-Valankulam Lake. But there is constant traffic. Other places like the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University botanical garden are too far or have an entry fee.”

Coimbatore Reads is one of the many chapters of Cubbon Reads, which has kicked off a silent reading movement in several parts of the world.
| Photo Credit:
M. Periasamy

So, the trio zeroed in on Bharathi Park in Saibaba Colony. Nine people turned up for the first meetup on July 2. The reading community has met nine times ever since. 

The community is particular about not calling themselves a book club. “We don’t engage in book discussions or book exchanges. We read silently for a few hours and then break out for tea together (optional). Come whenever, leave whenever,” says its description. Anyone can join, as long as they don’t disturb the other readers.

Finding books and friends

Arshadh Z Hussain, a 23-year-old aspiring chartered accountant who has been to a few Coimbatore Reads meetups, reckons reading becomes more immersive when shared with others. “The ambience at Bharathi Park enhances the experience significantly. After our reading sessions, we engage with fellow readers. That has helped me discover more books, ideas, and perspectives,” he says. “For instance, I mostly read fiction. But among the group, there are avid readers of non-fiction. Recently, one of them discussed Communism, sparking my interest in the topic.”

For Shruti Jain, who got into reading during the pandemic, the reading community offers a distraction-free environment. “At home, you are constantly distracted by your devices or other people. And once you are distracted, it’s hard to get back to the book. But when you see other people reading, it’s easy to read for two hours without a disturbance,” she says.

Apart from reading, Coimbatore Reads is also a place to make new friends. Nanditha Srinivasan, a doctor, recently moved to Coimbatore. Books, she says, have always been her companion. After moving to the city, Nanditha wanted to meet new people. “Within a few minutes of browsing Instagram, I discovered Coimbatore Reads,” she says, “Unlike a conventional book club, there are no rigid rules here. There is no pressure to finish a particular book within a specific time. So, that suits people who want to read for leisure. You also find new themes, genres, books, and friends.”

Unlike Cubon Reads, which has over 100 participants every session, Coimbatore Reads hardly gets 20 people. But the founding members of the community — Akalya, Arathi, and Nivedha — say it’s not about the numbers. “In the Netherlands, I have seen people biking from a very young age. So, there’s a biking culture there,” says Nivedha, “Similarly, we want to start a reading culture here.”

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