Last Saturday, about 500 people gathered at Cubbon Park in Bengaluru with mats, bottles, pens, foldable chairs—and most importantly, books. Scattered across the park, readers leaned on a Banyan tree under its welcoming branches or lounged on a mat and silently read, together. This serene scene is a weekly occurrence from 9 AM to 2 PM at the park since January where members of Cubbon Reads, a reading community, meet to read.
In December 2022, Shruti Sah and Harsh Snehanshu, a marketing professional and an entrepreneur, respectively, began cycling every week to Cubbon Park to read books under the sprawling trees. When they posted about it on their personal social media accounts, their friends decided to join. Next month, a group of five or six members began heading to Cubbon Park for this silent reading ritual. It was then the duo started the Instagram page, Cubbon Reads, that’s now become a popular page on social media.
“We were a group of about 37 people in our 19th gathering last month. Then, two of our Instagram reels went viral and in the next gathering there were 300 people,” Sah tells Lounge. The growth has been organic, which reflects the interest in this concept. “It’s nice to see so many people interested in this. We hoped to start a space that felt safe, inclusive, and welcoming and as more people join us, it feels like we are doing that,” she adds.
From young students to people in their 60s, diverse people have joined the gathering, all with a shared interest in books and silence. However, Sah and Snehanshu don’t like to call Cubbon Reads a book club. They prefer to be called “a silent reading community”. “Silence is important in this space because when there is no performative action taking place, people come to read whatever they feel like, without any pressure. Some people come with their academic books, and others come with Kindle or papers to read,” says Sah.
For the duo, the idea is to make reading visible so that when people it, it will catch on. As some of the readers have told Sah and Snehanshu, having a community that meets to read makes them feel motivated to finish a book which they often struggle with. Snehanshu adds it’s the silence also makes a space more inclusive. He elaborates, “There are people who don’t want to interact or socialise. But they want to be part of a community gathering like this. For them, silent reading can be a relief.”
The only time there are interactions is after the reading hours when people usually gather to stack up the books for some pictures and have conversations, if interested. However, the two are strict about privacy and not recording people’s data. “We do not recommend books or noting down what people are reading or even names of readers. However, an interesting observation has been the variety of books. I have seen people read books in regional languages and translations which is much-needed,” says Snehanshu.
For Sah and Snehashu, it’s important to keep the space as informal as possible-- a convenient blend of the silence of a library and the comfort of home, something only public spaces like parks can offer. “It also makes you feel safer. For instance, one of our readers, a single woman, would come to read at Cubbon Park and she would often lay on a blanket to do so. But it didn’t sit well with the guards who would ask her why she was sleeping there even though she wasn’t. Now, she is a regular part of Cubbon Reads and she feels safer and free,” says Sah.
As the community grew, more people reached out to them asking them to start more gatherings in different areas, in Bengaluru and other cities. This is when Sah and Snehanshu decided to help interested people start their own chapters. “They don’t have to be affiliated with us but if they choose to then we have some basic rules such as ensuring silence is at the core. We are more than happy to help people start different communities in India and abroad as we see this as a movement,” says Snehanshu.
Currently, there are over 40 chapters with six in Bengaluru and more than 25 in other cities such as Lodhi Reads in Delhi, Juhu Reads in Mumbai and Trivandrum Reads. There are also about 10 international chapters such as Regent Reads in London and Kuala Lumpur Reads in Malaysia. The recent Lalbagh Reads in Bangalore was joined by about 100 readers.
Cubbon Reads(@cubbonreads on Instagram) community meet every Saturday from 9 AM To 2 pm at Cubbon Park, Bengaluru.