As the sun started to slant on a breezy May afternoon, Divya Hasti scooted through the roads of Yelahanka, a Bengaluru locality almost twenty kilometres away from the heart of the city. Her mission was clear: to identify a park, with abundant grass that could be a harbour for her and like-minded friends to lie on and read. The mission was supposed to be completed in an hour. Little did she know that her pursuit of a public park for reading would be considered trespassing.
In May, Hasti, a 24-year-old finance professional, reached out to us at Cubbon Reads, a quiet reading community in Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park, to start an affiliated chapter for readers in Yelahanka. Our chapters across sixty cities worldwide turn every weekend into a riot of silent readers occupying public parks. Some also paint, crochet, write or make origami. Five other volunteer-led chapters—Lalbagh Reads, Whitefield Reads, Sankey Reads, Hosur Sarjapura Road Reads and Bhartiya City Reads—have sprung up in Bengaluru. Yelahanka Reads was supposed to be the sixth, for readers in the suburbs for whom the other chapters were too far away.
The bottleneck was not the lack of public parks in Yelahanka. There are lakes surrounded by patches of green, and public parks maintained by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike—Greater Bengaluru municipal corporation. But all of them have one bizarre unwritten rule: sitting on the grass is prohibited. Hasti told us that a guard at one of the parks had asked her to sit on the benches fencing the grass. When she enquired about the basis for such rules, the guard there, as well as those at other parks, said it was a direction from higher authorities. Similarly, around Sankey Tank, a manmade lake in West Bengaluru, Arun Patre, the curator for Sankey Reads, finds himself having to host the reading community on a concrete walking track.