The pleasure of leisurely reading

In the present era of social media, brief news, and short attention spans, book clubs in Hyderabad are daring to break the norm by celebrating the beauty of a leisurely long read. The trend is very much alive among several groups in the city which claim that the clubs not only bind its members together as a family but also serve as effective stress busters. Although intellectual stimulation, self-expression, and friendship happen to be the common thread running through them all, the impact of such clubs is actually far greater than meets the eye. Researchers in the UK have found that social groups, such as book clubs, could lead people to live longer and healthier lives within a certain demographic.

The 2016 study, published in BMJ Open, explored the benefits of social group participation before and after retirement and found that people who maintained such social bonds after retirement were at a lesser risk of death in their first six years post-retirement.

The groups in Hyderabad reflect this thought with each group following an ethos distinctly different from the others. While ‘The Dog Ear Society’ is a mixed bag of people who prefer to be known as a literature appreciation group, the gender equal group ‘Turn The Page’ comprises only couples. The ‘Bindaas Bakwaas Bookclub’, on the other hand, comprises only women.

Mubaashir Ansari, who works in digital marketing and social media, funded The Dog Ear Society with his friend Anjali in 2012. He explained the model that his group runs on. “It’s not really a book club as we mostly appreciate literature, English and Urdu,” he said.

The group of eight started with each member sharing the names of the books that they grew up reading and which had a lasting impact on them — a starting point that they consider enriching. The format of the group is fairly unique. Instead of everyone reading the same book, the host suggests a particular topic and leaves it to the members of the group to pick a book of their choice within the proposed genre. Ansari explained, “The idea is to promote exposure to a wide variety of literature because there are countless excellent authors and poets that we may not be aware of.”

Are book clubs becoming archaic?Ansari explained why book clubs are especially important in the present day. “Pretty much everybody today wants snackable content. However, I believe that long-form can truly bring characters and stories to life. Unfortunately, many people who write today are either misinformed or uninformed and that is dangerous. I would like to convey to younger individuals that they cannot get an education through social media and that social media will, in fact, corrupt their minds. I’d much rather read a poem by Wordsworth.”

An ex-journalist and the founding editor of Jacaranda Press, Amrita Chak has since forever been involved with the written word. It was when she was hunting for a book club that the idea of ‘Turn the Page’ was born and eventually founded in collaboration with Sanjay Jesrani. The four-year-old club now has 12 member couples who meet once every month.

The club comprises people from all walks of life, including lawyers, chartered accountants, NGO activists, and corporate professionals. “We are a co-ed group of husbands and wives. Our agenda was for each couple to persuade another couple to join us and consequently, we are now a gender equal group.”

“We try and keep things interesting. For example, we organised a book reading of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, just after he passed away last year. We first read the book in his honour and then indulged in a cook-off wherein we cooked one of his favourite dishes, an elegant pasta.”

The 52-year-old Amrita Chak, who now works with a fact-checking company, explained, “It is imperative to identify the elements that can induce a sense of calm and overall wellbeing into the life of an individual, and reading happens to be incredibly therapeutic. There will always be people who prefer to read, so I think the future of books is bright.”

Members bond like familyAs far as the all-women ‘Bindaas Bakwaas Bookclub’ is concerned, books seem to have added much more to their lives than just stories. Through the process of reading and sharing ideas, the group has now become a close-knit family.

Kinnera Murthy, a member, said, “We laugh, we talk, we read. A lot of people prefer watching films over reading books. However, the written word is far richer in what it has to offer, I believe. For me, a book allows me to take a peek into the author’s mind,” she said. The group was founded on April 17, 2007 and comprises 10 members now all women with the youngest member being 49 years old and the oldest, 70.

The 66-year-old Kinnera Murthy of Banjara Hills said, “We did not intend to form a women-only club but we got along quite well when it happened and therefore, decided to stick with it. We all have different personalities, temperament, and professions, but our love for books brings us together,” she said.

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