Finding any means to momentarily escape the daily drudgery of our fast-paced lives has become the norm now. Particularly for those of us trapped in the concrete jungles of the city.
While some seek solace in the company of friends, liquid courage or adrenaline-channelling activities, others, like me, seek absolute solitude.
Which is why, when I came across Cubbon Reads, the viral literary phenomenon on Instagram, I was not convinced that this was the solution to my woes.
Because, how is it that when you’re looking to get away from people, joining a crowd becomes the answer to your problem?
Nevertheless, the community in Bengaluru was blowing up all over the Internet, and I love reading.
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Falling in love with green all over again
God bless Bengaluru weather!
Because, no way would I sign up for this in the company of scorching sun or even worse, humidity.
“Thankfully, unlike other cities in India, Bengaluru, in terms of weather, is pleasant enough that you can spend the entire morning outside,” says Jaee, a regular at Cubbon Reads.
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It was a crisp Saturday morning and the sunlight felt just right as I stepped into the park.
Instantly, I opened the Cubbon Reads Instagram page and followed the map which led to the spot where everyone was gathering.
It was my first time at the park, and the lush greenery instantly reminded me of two homes — Kerala, and Army Cantonments.
And, as someone who has lived in major cities like Mumbai and Delhi, this lavish space seemed like a thing of luxury.
The immediate sight of people sprawled across the grass on colourful mats and sheets, reading in absolute quiet, made me feel right at home.
A sanguine sense of healing
With the cool wind threading through my hair, I watched the crowd swell.
Readers were parked under the canopy of trees that stopped them from getting blasted by the sunlight.
The only sound I could hear was the gentle murmur of people outside the reading area. The birds, breeze, insects, and squirrels…all coming together to make a symphony of healing music.
“I strongly believe nature heals,” says Aditee Banerjee, a first-timer in the community.
Being in nature is healing for me and for anyone that I know. The only reason to believe that does not happen is that you have not been in nature,” she adds.
Banerjee, who was at the park with her 13-year-old son, says her recent divorce led her in search of healing, which brought her to Cubbon Reads.
Echoing similar sentiments is Aastha Soni, a marketing executive, who joined the community to escape the woes of her daily life.
“I have been going through an extremely rough patch. Sometimes in life, you face ‘museebatton ka pahaad’ (mountain of troubles),” she says.
“Reading has always been a form of escapism for me. So, a few hours here helps me get my mind off everything. I guess, a change of environment really does make a difference,” Soni adds.
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Being alone in a crowd- liberating
Coming to my initial conundrum of how to find solitude in a crowd, turns out I was worried about nothing at Cubbon Reads.
Even though you are surrounded by people across the endless grass, you are, blissfully, on your own. And no, do not confuse it with loneliness.
It’s a wonderful feeling to be part of a silent community that lets you be on your own, read whatever you want, and yet, feel included.
“It feels safe and good to be around people who are reading, because you know there won’t be a lot of noise. Otherwise, I just end up shushing people when I am reading!”, says Jaee.
Fulfilling her long-time dream of having a private picnic in nature with books, Jaee, who is a regular in the community, says she could not be happier.
“Since I grew up in Delhi, I did not have a lot of opportunities to go out, for safety concerns, mostly. But here, I get to do that. I get to have my quiet time and have my picnic with just books and food. It’s something I have always wanted to do,” she shares.
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Cubbon Reads- Paradise for introverts
If you’re an introvert teetering around the notion of reading in a park full of people, let me put your woes to rest.
As mentioned above, the community lets you be and the number of people present does not really matter. Your privacy is respected.
“This is a silent community. We don’t talk to anyone. No one will approach you if you don’t want to. This is a very personal thing,” says Chitkale Prakash, one of the curators of the community.
“I have never experienced something like this. I like to keep to myself in social settings and Cubbon Reads was very much in my comfort zone. People respect your privacy. No one disturbs you. They maintain silence. No one is blasting loud music. At the same time, if I choose to, I can connect with people later. It’s amazing,” Soni gushes.
Main idea behind forming Cubbon Reads
“Promoting anti-hustle culture” was the primary concept behind the formation of Cubbon Reads, says Prakash.
“Right now, in this generation, especially, we have a hustle culture wherever we go. Everyone wants to be productive. Here, there is none of that. There are no reading goals you must stick to. No set book you must read. No specific intellectualization of books,” she adds.
Emphasising that it’s a ‘silent community’, Prakash states that while the community has no goal, as such, the hope was to create a safe space for all ages and genders to read freely to their heart’s content.
The community was started by Shruti Sah and Harsh Snehanshu on 7 January 2023, and needless to say, it’s been a tremendous success.
I attended the 28th edition, which had over 500 people. Sometimes, the numbers even cross 800, which says a lot about the growing influence of the community.
“We have spread to over 60+ communities all over the world. We have people in Melbourne, and Amsterdam who are following the Cubbon Reads playbook, to start their own version there,” informs Prakash.
“There is no specific goal. We have achieved our goal if people feel free and comfortable to just come here and read in their free time. It feels wonderful to see the kind of impact we are making. It’s nostalgic for a lot of them to come and read in a big park,” she says.
More parks in Bengaluru to join the community?
While Banerjee is in love with Cubbon Reads, the commute to the location from her residence in Jakkur is harrowing.
Eventually, she hopes, another chapter of Cubbon Reads opens in one of the many parks more accessible to her.
“We have lovely parks around where I live and I have been thinking, who are the people I can rope in to start a chapter in our area,” she ponders.
Well, the curators of Cubbon Reads are aware of this dilemma and are in the process of expanding across parks in the city.
“We had people in Lalbagh reach out to us and we opened a chapter there. We have this thing called the Reads Playbook, which is used to open similar chapters in other locations,” Prakash says.
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How to be a part of Cubbon Reads
The best part about this community is that it is a zero-hassle one. You don’t sign up for anything, you log in to nothing. Just show up with your book!
The location is available on the Instagram page of the community. Follow the map and you will find yourself in the midst of people buried in their books.
Show up with a mat or a sheet to sit on. Light refreshments like fruits and water are encouraged to bring along.
You can also bring your friends, but remember to put a lockdown on loud chatting, as it is a ‘silent’ community.
Sure, you can chit-chat, just keep it low, as there is nothing more annoying to a reader than a raucous person.
The community gathers every Saturday between 9 am to 2 pm. At the end of the session, a group photo is clicked, displaying the books that were read on the day.
Once the session is done, you can mingle and make new friends if you want to, something I saw being done in gusto.
A few Manga readers rushed out of the park in a group, and I am sure I saw them entering alone!
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A nostalgic treat I will savour again & again
Coming to a park and reading books with food and toys was a staple in my childhood, in another era sans the vice of technology.
To find a place like that again in my 30s is a precious gift I will cherish for as long as I am in Bengaluru.
“Come here on your Saturdays and feel free from the burdens of productivity,” says Prakash and I couldn’t agree more.
In our daily rigamarole of burning the candle at both ends, Cubbon Reads is a rustic, refreshing breath of fresh air that unlocks the chokehold we are in, albeit for a moment.