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The case of the missing reader

delhi Updated: Mar 13, 2010 23:57 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
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It’s 7 pm, Barakhamba Road Metro Station. The next train to Noida City Centre will arrive in three minutes. The platform is crammed with commuters. The train arrives, jam-packed. But those waiting on the platform manage to push their way in. It’s maddening rush inside. People have settled down in every nook and corner. Those sitting are happy, relief writ large on their faces.

As the train hurtles ahead, some get busy on their mobiles — playing games, sending SMS, listening to music, earphones plugged in, eyes closed. Others are chatting with each other — pretty loudly. There are also people browsing through office files.

But, is there anyone here reading while riding the rails. Well, no one!

Unlike cities such as New York, Madrid and Tokyo, which have a vibrant reading culture on the subway, Delhiites do not like to read on Metro trains.

Is it because of a general lack of reading habits or is the Metro not the right place to read? “I would love to read here, but when I cannot even stand straight, how can I hope to hold a book? It’s too crowded,” says Prashant Arora, a resident of Noida.

But Manish Sharma, who has studied graphic designing in New York, thinks otherwise. “In New York, it’s a ritual to read underground. You can spot lots of people reading on the subway, standing in the crowd, without holding on. There is no reading culture on Delhi Metro probably because the travel time is less. That does away with the reason for reading while travelling,” he says.

But Sam Miller, a Delhi-based BBC journalist and the author of Delhi: Adventures in a Mega City, believes that the reading culture on the Metro is slowing picking up in Delhi. “Unlike in the West, people in Delhi talk to each other a lot while commuting, one reason why they do not read on the train. I feel the habit of reading on the Metro is slowly catching on,” says Miller.

In Delhi, it’s Metro on the yellow line, which boasts of the maximum number of avid readers, mostly college-goers. One can easily spot youngsters reading books (text books, fiction, self-help) — and fashion magazines. “I always carry a book in my bag and I love to read on the Metro. There is not much crowd on this line, so reading is quite a pleasure,” says Zoya Shakeel, a Stephenian immersed in William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns.

And what are the bestsellers on the bookstores on Metro’s Vishwa Vidyalaya station? “Presently, Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States: The story of my marriage is selling most,” says Nitin Sharma, cluster manager, DMRC operations, Odyssey India Limited. There may not be many readers on Delhi Metro but the stations do boast of snazzy bookstores such as Odyssey Express, their very name suggesting that they cater primarily to commuters. Currently, Odyssey Express has stores at 7 metro stations. T.S.Ashwin, Managing Director, Odyssey India Limited, says, “Odyssey plans to open two more stores at Metro stations in near future.”

Now, books for Metro commuters

Recently, Penguin Books launched its new series ‘Metro Reads’, aimed at Metro commuters. The books’ catch-line? ‘Fun, Feisty, Fast reads: For readers on the GO!’ “We had Metro commuters in mind when we launched these books, which have a good, gripping storyline, which makes for a short, racy read,” says Vaishali Mathur of Metro Reads.

Penguin has brought out three books in the series and plans to publish six books each year. Amrit N Shetty, author of Love Over Coffee, one of the books in the series, hopes to attract readers on the move. “Metro trains may be crowded and noisy. But one can flash through the pages of my book — despite the noise and the crowds,” he says.

Reading on the Mumbai Metro

In the rusted, crowded compartments of Mumbai locals, a fascinating reading culture flourishes. “Mumbaikars have turned newspaper reading into a fine art. They generally fold the paper half horizontally into quadrants, which takes up little space and ensures better handling in crowded compartments,” says Aditya Mehra, a Mumbai-based corporate lawyer. “Many Mumbaikars prefer to read newspapers on the train due to the long travelling time,” he adds.