Book in a park
Reading under the shade of trees and the blue sky in a garden would seem like an impossible dream for those living in the city. But two reading initiatives Kochi Book Reading Club and Kochi Reads have been facilitating exactly that every weekend. The members of the former meet every Saturday and the latter every Sunday at Kochi’s own Central Park at Panampilly Nagar to read as a community. Kochi Reads came to be in June, 2023, when group curator Gopika Manjusha, a content creator, heard that Bengaluru’s reading initiative, Cubbon Reads, was looking for curators in Kochi. What started out with five-odd people today has 65-70 people, with around 10-15 showing up for the sessions.
“We have people come in all the way from North Paravur and Muvattupuzha for the weekend sessions,” Gopika says. These start at 3pm and wrap up between 6-6.30pm. Kochi Book Reading Club stresses on silent reading. Curated by Vachas Amrita (founder) and Nidhin M, the group has an average of 20-odd members show up for the sessions, which are from 4.30pm-6.30pm. Unlike reading groups which mandate that members read the same book, there are no such conditions here. The point is reading. “The ambience is ready, we want to inculcate reading,” says Nidhin. On occasion there are reading-related activities such as book discussions. “People can talk about a book they’ve read or are reading. It is not necessary that everybody has read the book being talked about,” he adds. The group is also planning a book-based film screening. On days the weather is inclement the groups move to cafes in the vicinity.
The joy of a book
“What started as a project to reach out to a group of people who love reading a physical book has now grown into a thriving community of readers,” says Alex Joseph, founder of Granthapura. Launched 12 years ago in Panampilly Nagar, the library today has expanded to two other branches – in Tripunithura and Kakkanad – indicating an increased interest in reading in the city. “The library has a special focus on younger readers – 35% to 40% of books are aimed at the younger demographic. We have observed that parents who get memberships for their children eventually become readers. They start with a self-help book perhaps and then move on to other books,” adds Alex.
Granthapura has been modelled as a retail space, and is in the process of creating an open-air space outside for members to get together and read.
Catching them young
Dragon’s Den, a newly-opened reading room for children at the Kerala museum evolved from the museum’s summer camps, which were filled with reading, story-writing, skits and dramas. The enthusiastic response from the children and the parents led to the idea of having a permanent space for reading, says museum director Aditi Nayar. The team put together a collection from donated books and Funky Rainbow, a travelling children’s bookshop curated a collection which covers everything from picture books to books for young adults. The team converted some old furniture into shelves and the reading room shaped up as a space where children can come in and spend time browsing through the books. “The books we have are not mainstream, they mostly are connected to art and history and promise to broaden the reading horizons of young readers,” adds Aditi.
A group of women readers have created a space for women to get together at Studio Mirabilis in Panampilly Nagar. Every last Saturday of the month, there is a meeting and some people bring books. This gradually evolved into an informal exchange of books, conversations and ideas, says Mini Menon, a guest faculty at the Mathrubhoomi Media School and designer and founding partner of Studio Mirabilis. “This organically evolved into a cultural space and we are in the process of getting people to contribute books,” adds Mini.
According to a survey done by Pratilipi, an Indian online self-publishing and audiobook portal, which has content in over 12 languages, Kochi leads in terms of consumption with 14% followed by Mumbai at 9.47% and Pune at 8.87%. Kerala has the highest reads with 16.3% in December 2023.