Move over checking for bombs under the Metro seat for there may be a sweet surprise waiting: of books placed carefully in overlooked corners – under platform seats, above firehose boxes and near staircases.
These books are part of the project ‘Books on the Delhi Metro’, where a bunch of book fairies hide paperbacks around Metros for people to find, read, and then leave for the next person. Sometimes it is a Harry Potter fan who gets lucky and sometimes it is Gulzar’s balmy stories that come to the rescue of people fighting train boredom.
Started in mid-May by book-loving couple Shruti Sharma and Tarun Chauhan, the project now has around 4,000 followers on Facebook. And Shruti, a writer by profession, has taken it upon herself to ensure Delhiites get their daily dose of words.
“My goal is simple: to promote reading. For most people, reading is comforting, sort of therapeutic. I, from the last three months, have been drawing comfort from the knowledge that the books we keep at the stations are picked up and read by people,” says Shruti, who started this initiative after reading about how actress Emma Watson left a copy of her favourite paperback at a New York subway station last year.
While it started as part of a global movement – the inspiration was a similar initiative in London tubes – the project soon became a personal story of sorts for Shruti who grew up in the 90s in a middle-class household.
“We couldn’t always afford to buy books. My best bet was going to a library or borrowing from friends. There were so many books that remained on my wish list,” she shares.
Shruti and Tarun now have 30 volunteers who help them drop off books at different stations every day. After placing a book marked with a ‘Books on the Delhi Metro’ sticker, they post clues about its location on their Twitter and Facebook page.
The idea has now taken a life of its own. “Initially, the books were from our personal collection. Now we get book donations and some publishers have also come forward,” Shruti says.
But will it some day turn into a book promoting platform for publishers? Shruti replies in the negative. “I’ll never make it a money-making business. That’s why we don’t use new releases – they have to be at least two months old. I do plan to promote social issues such as child abuse, but it will remain a nonprofit entity,” she says.
But even the noblest of ideas come with their set of troubles. The trouble with this one: the books are not circulated enough. “I don’t want this to be seen as a free books platform. So far, we’ve kept 32 books across stations and only two have come back to be distributed further,” she said.
“While we have no idea where the first three copies that we dropped off went – they were not picked up, nor could we find them in the lost and found booth – about 90 per cent of the books now make it to the right people. We know this because readers tag us on social media,” she says, adding, “And yet, people don’t return or pass on the books.”
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