Commute collaterals | Books on the Delhi Metro
Words: Shruti Sharma
Pictures: Books on the Delhi Metro team
For years, amid daily household chores, I easily sidelined one big hobby that I had— reading. Reading books was not a hobby for me, it was a choice that I made. But when life threw its chaos at me, it just became the easiest thing to sacrifice. I knew I can’t live without air, water, food, my husband, my family, and of course, I must work to earn. So when it came to giving time to read a book, I tossed it off without any guilt.
But then, in 2017, I began a two-hour daily commute by metro. This was the time when I started reading again. And one fine day, I realised that my struggle to keep up with my reading is not just mine. That day, I decided that I wanted to help as many people as I could with commute-reading. Inspired by Books on the Subway, I started Books on the Delhi Metro in year 2017, and since then there has been no looking back.
My sole intention was to help book lovers overcome whatever challenges they faced in not being able to read. My own challenge— no time, not (much) money. Books aren’t that cheap after all.
When we’d just started, we were very careful about book drops. We were hiding books at different stations every day. A night before the book drop, we would post a hint about the book and tinker with people’s imagination as to where the book will be dropped. It was fascinating to see how much interest people took in the books that we chose to drop.
There was this one girl I remember. Richa. She used to pick a lot of the books that we dropped. Once in a week, we’d see her running through the stairs of a metro station, breathlessly making her way to catch hold of the book before anyone.
Initially, we were a little worried—was she stalking us? Also, more logistically, since we mention the book picker’s name in our Instagram stories, we didn’t want out followers to think we are setting up and fixing our book drops with the same book-picker each time. That thought troubled me.
I did not want anyone to tarnish the image of my initiative. I routinely repeated the idea behind this initiative to the people who made these book drops, i.e., my book fairies. I wanted the nobility of the causes preserved in every one of us.
One day, as I was dropping a book at Karol Bagh, I finally met Richa. I was waiting by for someone to come and pick the book I’d just dropped from the place of its hideout, and when I saw a frail figure running towards the book, I immediately recognized her.
“Can I pick this book,” Richa asked, still trying to catch her breath.
“Yes, absolutely,” I said.
I chatted with her for a while and got to know that she is a student. She told me she travelled in the opposite direction to her usual route just to be able to catch this book.
I was surprised.
As we talked, I couldn’t but ask her the question that’d been lingering in my mind for a while now:
“Richa, how and why do you manage to pick so many of our books,” I asked. “Do you stalk us?”
She smiled sheepishly. I felt embarrassed for asking her that question.
“Yes,” she said. “I do that. I follow you guys earnestly, because you guys are the only way I get to read books.”
I flushed with pride. I’d finally met one person whose life I was making better.
“I am very fond of reading, but I can’t spend money on books,” Richa said. “I have a few books, though. But I have read them all,” she added, saying she’d mostly borrow from friends.
“When you guys started though, it was as if the most perfect thing had happened to me. I loved the idea. Take. Read. Return. I just want to read books, I don’t want to hoard them,” Richa continued. Whenever she gets notified on her Instagram of a book drop, she drops whatever she is doing and rushes to get the book.
“For the first book that I picked, I ran in my pajamas to New Delhi station metro,” Richa recalled.
While she spoke, I felt as though I were looking at myself from 10 years ago. Richa was my younger version. same love for stories, the same restrictions on money, the same enthusiasm of youth. I bet if I was at that age and someone had started Books on the Delhi Metro then, I’d have done exactly what Richa’s been doing.
And it that moment, I had a lump in my throat. I wanted to hug her with all the warmth and say thanks to her for becoming a part of my journey. I could only manage “Thank you, Richa.”
I just hope you never grow up, Richa. I hope this burning fire to read books stays alive in you forever. And though, I know she will laugh at it, 10 years from now, telling stories to someone how she ran in her pajamas to catch a book, but that will still be a story worth reminiscing, a story worth sharing. A story which, who knows, may just inspire others to read.
Shruti Sharma is the founder of Books on Delhi Metro. Find out more about this project here.