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Love of reading: A treasure hunt for book lovers in Delhi

Not just Delhi Metro, the entire city is becoming a ground for a treasure hunt for book lovers.

delhi Updated: Jul 23, 2017 07:42 IST
Manoj Sharma
Keshav Chhabra and Shrishti Bhardwaj, members of The Book Fairies Delhi, drop books around town for people to read and then leave them for others.
Keshav Chhabra and Shrishti Bhardwaj, members of The Book Fairies Delhi, drop books around town for people to read and then leave them for others. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

These days Shruti Sharma is on the lookout for the right spots to hide at Metro stations – well, not herself, but her books. “At times, Metro staff got suspicious of me,” laughs Sharma, who is on an unusual mission. Sharma hides books at various Metro stations for people to take, read and drop again for the next person.

In May, she along with her husband founded Books on the Delhi Metro, a community of book lovers with the objective to get more people reading. The community members — professionals, students, and homemakers — leave free books, both new and old, at Metro stations for others to pick and read.

In fact, not just Delhi Metro, the entire city is becoming a ground for a treasure hunt for book lovers. In March, Keshav Chhabra, a Delhi University student, started The Book Fairies Delhi, part of a global community, The Book Fairies, whose members hide books around town. Shruti was inspired by Book on the Underground, a community of commuters who hide books on London Underground. Both the communities drop books with stickers that encourage people to ‘take the book, read it and leave it for the next person’.

Shruti Sharma along with her husband founded Books on the Delhi Metro. The community members drop books at Metro stations for people to find. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

The two communities carefully plan and set up their ‘treasure hunt’ and leave hints on their social media platforms about which books are going to be dropped where. Unlike Books on the Delhi Metro, members of The Book Fairies Delhi hide books all over town — restaurants, parks, college campuses.

“We generate interest in treasure hunting for books and encourage schools and youth groups to get involved. We blend the digital and real worlds well. Social media is a large part of what we do, but in the end you’re getting a real book,” says London-based Cordelia Oxley, who founded The Book Fairies in March.

The movement has spread to 100 countries, including India, which now has seven chapters including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, and Kolkata. “One thing that makes our India chapter unique is the sheer speed at which the community has grown. But I am not surprised. There are so many cities in the country which have a strong literary interest and are very creative too,” says Oxley.

Shruti, who works as a content writer, agrees that the social media is an integral part of the movement and makes it exciting and interesting. “We get a lot of suggestions from people about where to drop books and which books to drop,” she says. “We are so happy when those who find books write to us on Instagram. The books should remain in circulation because that is the idea behind the movement,” says Shruti.

Members of the two communities say hiding books and tracing their journey on the social media is quite an adventure.

“I love to hide children’s books in parks, and I ensure that no one sees me while I do so. The idea is to hide a book at a spot which is not too visible and nor too hidden,” says Shrishti Bhardwaj, a member of The Book Fairies Delhi.

“We do not drop books that deal with religion and those that have erotic content,” says Chhabra, official fairy for The Book Fairies Delhi.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhuti Roy, Maa by Munawwar Rana, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis and The Hound of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle are among the hundreds of free books dropped by the two communities.

And where do the books come from?

Initially, Shruti started dropping books from her own collection but now many publishers have come forward to collaborate with her. Among the publishers Books on the Delhi Metro has collaborated with are Harper Collins India, Penguin, Niyogi Books, Vani Prakashan, Simon & Schuster.

In fact, both communities are getting requests from young authors to share their books. “They send their books to us and we drop them. We are not judgemental about the books we drop. That is for the readers to decide,” says Chhabra.

Talking of Books on the Delhi Metro, Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, director Vani Prakashan, says the project is creating a community of interested readers who are sharing and not stealing books. “It is also serving the social purpose of a book. They have maintained their independence in terms of choosing books. Publishers should support them unconditionally,” she says.

But does the project not run the risk of turning into a marketing platform for publishers? “As publishers our objective is to spread the joy of reading. When we provide books for such a great initiative, we do not expect anything in return. We have many avenues of marketing. We have just started, let’s see how the collaboration evolves,” says Sonali Singh, head of marketing, Harper Collins Publishers India, which has contributed books to Books on Delhi Metro.

In the past couple of years, a lot of online platforms—both App and web-based-- that facilitate sharing, lending, and borrowing books have also come up but these two projects are different.

“You want to share the book, but you don’t know who gets it. In fact, people who got the books write back to say how the ‘surprising find’ made their day. It is such a magical feeling,” says Keshav. “We love seeing the look on someone’s face when they find a book! It’s as simple as that. There is no better feeling,” says Condelia.

when they find a book! It’s as simple as that. There is no better feeling,” says Condelia.