Two years of being stuck indoors due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, and our channels of communication with the rest of the world was texting, phone calls, or video calls. From meeting our friends to conversing with our colleagues, a glass screen remained a commonality in all our interactions. Even though the world has now returned to normal, the ‘new normal’ is no more the same. Our days are governed by virtual interactions, which is in contrast to how so many of us grew up—with a desire to have a tranquil abode for oneself, filled with books and plants, where we could invite like-minded individuals and indulge in thoughtful conversations.
To break out of this rut, Manmeet Kaur—gender and development professional—is trying to get back to the conventional joy of meeting people in physical spaces through Khwaabghar, a community library she established in her Gurugram-home in September last year. The library, housing about 4,000 pre-loved books, is “a space where people can visit, read, write, and unwind,” mentions Kaur. Reflecting on this endeavour, the 26-year-old shares, “It came to me as a realisation that having one’s own place, where I can read and write, is a privilege and a lot of people do not have that. Creating a shared space for people to feel like it is your own with the liberty to relax was the idea.”
Nurturing a love for reading
Growing up, Kaur recounts that the concept of reading beyond textbooks felt novel when she first entered a library in school. “I was scared of libraries because I felt like I wouldn’t belong and I won’t know even if I entered one,” Kaur mentions. The presence of Khwaabghar, therefore, is a “huge shift'' for Kaur, who is also a passionate writer. Apart from the diminishing community spaces, Kaur also noticed how the idea of going out is almost always limited to eating in fancy restaurants or cafes. A place like Khwaabghar, therefore, plays an important role in offering a space where “one can feel at home and not just rush out”.
Adorned with a writing desk, sofa bed, and bookshelves, Kaur has converted the verandah and later, one room of her house, into a reading space. The library is open throughout on weekends and in evenings—on weekdays. Individuals can visit after informing Kaur and browse through tiles, read, and even subscribe or buy certain books—a formal subscription plan is still being devised. Since Kaur was away from social media for about a year, the news of the library mostly spread through word of mouth or through her newsletter. Till date, over 120 people have bought books from the library and over 60 people have visited as well. Kaur also hosts theme-specific get-togethers every month. A particular initiative of these events is a ‘feminist circle’ meant for people of all genders. Members also regularly meet for picnics and potlucks to discuss several ideas.
Forming a larger community
On being asked how she ensures that books are returned by members and the sanctity of the space is not disrupted. Kaur mentions that mutual trust is a founding principle of making a model like this work. “Some books are only available for reading in the library, some are available for subscription, and some are for sale. Though the subscription model is still evolving, currently, I only offer subscriptions to those who have visited the place five times and if I know the person and where they are from, and other details. But this may change over time.”
Individuals who have met each other at Khwaabghar have forged close friendships among each other—they often meet to attend other events happening in the city as well. “There was a couple whose first public date was the Khwaabghar picnic and they got married last week. To have all these stories pop up, it's really sweet and also forms a major objective of [setting up] this library,” shares Kaur. Sanya Sodhi (26) from South Delhi, who has visited the library a few times, recounts her experience and says, “It is a beautiful space where one can exchange ideas, stories, and it feels really safe. To have a place like such in the middle of the concrete jungle that we live in… the place feels like a refuge.”
By opening up the doors of her home to other readers, Kaur has created a space to learn and grow, and as she admits, she is "making up for the lost time".