Where I Go: Reading Among Readers

In India, Weekly Reading Clubs Offer a Sense of Community and Belonging

Where I Go: Reading Among Readers | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

In the midst of a public park in India’s capital, dozens gather with one goal in mind: to read. Sociology student Ankush Pal writes from New Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens, where he’s fallen in with a circle of readers. Image courtesy of Lodhi Reads.

I entered the Lodhi Gardens through Gate 1, as I’d been instructed, and approached the monument. A city park spread over 90 acres in New Delhi, the gardens contain the tombs of medieval rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and today serve as a popular destination for walking and hanging out. I found myself facing a tomb with a dome on top, with people ranging in age from university students to those in their early 30s sprawled all around. Some reclined on mats; others simply lay on the grass. Everyone was silently reading a book.

I sat down with my own, John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, and quickly found myself unusually immersed. Somehow, it was easier to read among other readers. After about half an hour, some kind soul passed around snacks.

There’s no shortage of people saying that it’s rare, nowadays, to find people who read. The Atlantic, the Guardian, and the New Yorker have raised concerns about declining readership among 9-year-olds and college students alike. Researchers often attribute the phenomenon to how smartphones, and particularly applications such as Instagram, wreaking havoc on our attention span. At the same time, others decry the loss of public spaces, a process that rapidly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. People are picking streaming platforms over cinema halls; even parks are increasingly privatized.

But amid these twin crises, a new phenomenon has taken root in New Delhi: weekly reading clubs.

Perhaps ironically, I first learned about these communities on Instagram. I saw an account named “Lodhi Reads,” which had pictures of weekly meet-ups and information about future dates. The group met every Sunday in Lodhi Garden.

With an interest in finding a real-life community among readers, I ventured out to Lodhi Gardens and spent three hours immersed in my book on a Sunday evening in June.

It was not the first reading club I had stumbled upon. During the pandemic, I was part of an online reading circle that would discuss socio-political texts on caste, capitalism, feminism, and surveillance. I participated enthusiastically—often volunteering to make posters to promote the sessions—but something seemed amiss. It wasn’t the material being discussed or the people; both were more than adequate in keeping the circle interesting. It was the fact that we were “meeting” online. Though I appreciated the effort to create a sense of community among readers, the Google Meet format was not for me.

So, with an interest in finding a real-life community among readers, I ventured out to Lodhi Gardens and spent three hours immersed in my book on a Sunday evening in June. I found the group easily, having seen the photos and description on Instagram.

Where I Go<span class="colon">:</span> Reading Among Readers | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Ankush Pal shares how he found a community of readers at Lodhi Reads. Courtesy of Lodhi Reads.

Afterward, I reached out to the curator, Ritika, on Instagram. She informed me that the group was inspired by Bangalore-based “Cubbon Reads,” which got its start in December 2022. Two friends, Harsh Snehanshu and Shruti Sah, would cycle to Cubbon Park to read and post pictures on their social media accounts. The posts attracted their friends to join them, and eventually more and more people started showing up. Cubbon Reads’ success started a flurry of similar groups popping up across the country—the second of which was Lodhi Reads. Today, there are a few other reading clubs in Delhi and neighboring regions—and the trend has even “gone global.”

A parallel experiment called Delhi Reads also got its start in December 2022. Two women, Molina and Paridhi, both graduates of the University of Delhi, met at a coffee shop after becoming friends through the social media platform Twitter (now X). Realizing there were few spaces in the city for young people that weren’t divided by education and social class—especially in the post-COVID era—they decided to do something about it.

While other reading circles get together in a particular spot to read silently, members of Delhi Reads meet once or twice a month to discuss whatever they have been reading and thinking about. Though it started as a book club, the group now focuses more on creating a sense of community; lately, the organizers have been experimenting with other activities, such as organizing film screenings and a local bookstore tour.

As my evening at Lodhi Reads came to a close, I realized that I’d gotten halfway through a book that I had been putting off picking back up for about a year, without even noticing that it was getting dark. All the participants gathered and organized their books in a pile so that someone could click a picture for Lodhi Reads’ Instagram account. On my way out of Lodhi Gardens, a fellow attendee struck up a conversation with me about the book I’d been carrying. They were interested in what the author had to say about the Russian Revolution and noticed that my copy had been published prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. Before we had formally met one another, our books had already struck up a dialogue. I went home filled with a unique sensation: having spoken few words yet being silently sure that I belonged.

Ankush Pal is a sociology student at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. His work has been published by EPW, Indian Express, Outlook, and more.
PRIMARY EDITOR: Caroline Tracey | SECONDARY EDITOR: Sarah Rothbard
Explore Related Content
, , , ,


Send A Letter To the Editors

    Please tell us your thoughts. Include your name and daytime phone number, and a link to the article you’re responding to. We may edit your letter for length and clarity and publish it on our site.

    (Optional) Attach an image to your letter. Jpeg, PNG or GIF accepted, 1MB maximum.