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 just a hobby for me, it was a choice that I'd made everyday. But when life threw its chaos at me, it just became the easiest thing to sacrifice. I knew I couldn't live without air, water, food, my husband and my family. Of course, I must work to earn. So when it came to finding time to reading a book, I tossed it off without any guilt. But then, in 2017, I began a two-hour daily commute by the metro. Slowly, at this time, I found myself starting to read again.
I realised that my struggle to keep up with my reading wasn't just mine, and so I decided that 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 the challenges they faced in not being able to read. My own challenge: no time and not (much) money. Books aren’t very 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.
I remember this one girl, Richa. She used to pick a lot of the books we dropped. We’d see her running along the stairs of a metro station once a week, breathlessly making her way to catch hold of a book before anyone. We were a little worried initially—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.
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 the familiar frail figure running towards the book, I immediately recognized her.
“Can I pick this book up,” Richa asked, still trying to catch her breath.
“Yes, absolutely,” I said, as I chatted her up for a while to get to know what made her chase after the books. She told me she was a student, and on this day, she'd 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 and I immediately I felt embarrassed for the both of us.
“Yes,” she said. “I follow you guys earnestly, because you're 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 too much money on books,” Richa said. "When you guys started though, it was as if the most perfect thing had happened to me. I loved the idea. Take. Read. Return," she said, adding that she just wanted to read books, and not hoard them..
Now, whenever she gets notified on her Instagram of a book drop, Richa drops whatever she is doing and rushes to get the book. “For the first book that I picked, I was in my pajamas, but I remember I ran to New Delhi station metro to get it,” 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.
In that moment, I had a lump in my throat. I wanted to hug her with all the warmth and tell her of the role she played in my journey. I could only manage a faint thank you.
Ten years from now she may laugh off the memory of a time when she ran to a train stop in her pajamas to just pick up a book. But it 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.