I am an average woman in her mid-thirties. I go by the usual business of life interacting with family, friends, and work. With a little luck by my side and quite an effort ( or the exquisite opposite as my husband would agree), I have managed to afford a decent living, a happy home, and some reliable people to hold me in difficult times. There are millions of people out there who live by the same decorum and millions more who in the least, strive to. I am no different, better, or hippie enough to elude from this judicious way of life. And while I cherish the world I built around these healthy, stable institutions, I can’t at the same time on certain occasions help but feel overwhelmingly philosophical about the circumscribing nature of these faculties. As and when I look back upon the older times at my younger self, I realize that while crossing over from childhood to teenage years to all the way through adulthood, my wit and intellect had been at the mercy of out-of-the-ordinary interactions which had been quite limited. I read common course books, graduated with a common degree, employed with organizations founded on mutually agreeable values. I grew out from one institution only to root into another. And in the process, my days became longer than the years and each one mirrored a familiar reflection. That’s how life takes its course for an ordinary person. That’s how I journeyed with time. Thankfully, only until recently! Allow me to share with you the joy of discovering a space that has enabled the likes of me to transcend their mechanical, clocked lives and grow beyond the given. A place where one can evolve without having to surrender age, profession, or experiences that can only be bought after being spent with time.
What if I tell you that I see ordinary people, like you and I, escape from the monotonous and the routine? That they can somehow bend the direction of time, travel back and forth, and bring about the times that have preceded them or are yet to arrive, right into their present. That they age funny, wisely, and youthfully, all at once. How curious would you be to know about people who are afflicted with an insatiable curiosity to feel, think, and imagine the worlds of impossible possibilities or vice versa? Indistinguishable in bone and flesh, they wear similar facades of round bellies, charming smiles, geeky spectacles, genteel beards, wiser hair, or sometimes, no hair at all. People who are no less grounded to the laws of nature or man than you or me but have managed to port themselves across different eras, places, and perspectives in their singularly settled lives. About an inspiring lot that gathers at some of the quiet, classy cafes of Jaipur every second and fourth Sunday of the month to share their love for books. Allow me to talk about Jaipur Book Lovers.
What would you assume if you see a fully grown-up man discussing Pinnochio? Is he growing young or old? Or a veteran special educator reading Jane Austen’s works? Is he romancing with the possibilities of romancing a fierce, stubborn, principled woman in his sixties? Or he wishes to know what it is like being a woman which he can’t become unless he goes through an expensive sex-change surgery which I doubt is the case? Or a well-read, well-educated woman brought up with liberal, secular values appraising Reading Lolita in Tehran? Is she possibly counting her blessings or comprehending a world that in many ways, is a nemesis of her own? Someone reading Abhyudyay is walking away from God or near to him? About an Indian miles away from the States reading Becoming Michelle Obama? These are either simple, imprudent, irrelevant questions, or deep philosophical inquiries centered around the core of human development. Being a book lover myself, I choose to build my case around the latter.
Overwhelmed with the quality of conversations I engaged with at JBL meet-ups, I couldn’t help but think about time and its relationship with the non-chronological development of an individual. It is nothing less of a bittersweet commotion that made me comprehend a long shortcut in time that reading has created in their lives while sharpening their instincts and critical faculties. And thus, began the fire lighting up a string of questions sprouting in my mind ever since I joined JBL. How often do we come across situations, people, ideas in a day or a week or a month or even a year that radically contrast from the normal or familiar? What is the likeability of encountering such experiences in a singular life which is protected enough from the possible adventures for better or worse? How far can we move away from the settled ways of life to know the unknown or unknow the known? I like to believe that we all dread uncomfortable movement as much as we crave the new directions. This is where Jaipur Book Lovers will appeal to your better judgment as a simple solution to the complex problem of an institutionalized life where curious intellects have been lying suspended in the comfort of familiar faces and files. And JBL does that by being exactly what it is.
To come across a book lover is to come across well-told narratives but to be around dozens of them is to find oneself in the cacophony of stimulated minds, poetic hearts, and recycled perspectives. In its conventional role of a book club, JBL motivates you to explore hidden gems of the literary world as well as to foray into the unorthodox, controversial, trendy, and evergreen. But you will begin to feel its real charm only after you have spent a while with the club which will ultimately happen if you happen to be a book lover. In a way that you will have something substantial to compare the value you receive through JBL and measure it against any means of entertainment out there—internet, cinema, travel, or consumerist indulgences. Let me put it this way! We all tune in to the same news channels, movie releases, music stations, or shopping malls. So, what you have to offer to others is what you were offered by them which is nothing but a colorful, lighter version of familiarity. Try experiencing Mona Lisa or Taj Mahal or Sistine Chapel and you will be astonished to know how predictable or behavioristic can these experiences be in their literal sense owing to the commercialization of history. I can vouch for the heavy queues and noisy crowds that will only let you enjoy the experience after you have had it. Not that they are less worthy or any less rewarding or not unique but their effects are more temporary in nature with relatively demanding courses. Being with JBL for more than a year now, I hardly have seen two people either reading the same book or comprehending it in the same capacity. One, for the universe of literature is way more vast for obvious reasons but also because no two books are the same or equal even if they are. On the contrary, I see voracious readers flat-out rejecting bestsellers. I see a seven-year-old sharing his favorite characters. I see non-readers bringing their children to these meet-ups to inculcate the passion for reading. I see established, addicted readers suffer from the ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ syndrome upon falling short of a good book or an author. Jaipur Book Lovers constructively resolves the conflict between the aged bodies and relatively younger intellects by feeding the minds with books exploring alive, dead, and unborn ideas in a free and open environment.
In its simple, subtle ways, Jaipur Book Lovers deconstructs the psyches manufactured by the populist media and let our dormant faculties emerge and engage with the world through its exciting, engaging sessions.
As Jaipur Book Lovers approaches its 100th meet-up, the floating sentiment is one of looking back at its journey, struggle, and success that JBL is today. With a longing for a platform where book lovers could share anxieties, desperation, and excitement of their inner worlds freely amidst others who suffer through the same condition, JBL took its roots in a quiet cafe. After five rewarding years and around 2000 members later, Jaipur Book Lovers has come a long way into becoming greater than just a regular book lovers club. And its members cannot be more grateful. For some, it exists as the much-needed ventilation to let those stirring thoughts out once and for all. For others, it is the sheer joy that comes from sharing the passion of reading with the like-minded. Some believe that it is the simple, unregulated, open environment at JBL meet-ups that has made them come back, again and again. Some have benefited from the stimulating company created by the members that come from all walks of life. Some have taken inspiration from the JBL to the outside world and tried introducing reading in their social circles. But for most, Jaipur Book Lovers is now an integral official part of their lifestyle. It is interesting to see the way JBL puts its well-read and novice readers in a difficult spot by coming about with a diverse range of topics. At its core, it is the ability of JBL to foresee the need of the human race to have a conversation with minds active in the fields of science, politics, economy, ecology and what-not, and translate it into productive, spontaneous meet-ups.
The reason every meet-up of JBL turns out to be a healthy catharsis of emotions, beliefs and concepts is that it continues to be run by avid, sincere and humble book lovers.
Jaipur Book Lovers deserves to be treated with respect as it develops the culture of reading among its residents from all walks of life, one meet-up at a time. By cultivating a healthy relationship with reading, Jaipur Book Lovers inspires people to become more calm, more open-minded, and more embracing of the unrelatable, incompatible realities of life. Something that every city, every nation in the world needs desperately today.