Early on some Saturday mornings, for the past one year, a group of 20-and-odd people gather under a tree at the Rabindra Sarobar Lakes in Kolkata. These are the members of the Sarobar Book Club, who meet at 7.30 am on the first and third Saturday of every month. Most book clubs are book based clubs – members choose a book, which they read and discuss during their meeting. The Sarobar Book Club, however, as member Charulatha Banerjee points out, is a theme based club. A theme is chosen for each meeting and members bring relevant readings – excerpts from novels, stories and essays, newspaper articles, poems.
Of course, people bring books too. You will probably read out a brief passage from a thick novel but you have the book, right there. It is passed around, and those familiar with the work or other works by the writer share opinions and memories. Someone else recommends other works you could consider reading. And before you know it, someone asks to borrow your book, you hand it over gladly, and are fairly confident that you’ll get it back.
It all started in November 2016, when the entrepreneur Mudar Patherya broached the idea of a Book Club to Samantak Das, Professor of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University. They contacted prospective attendees ahead of the meeting and requested them to bring their “favourite pieces” about Kolkata. “We thought January would be a good time to start,” says Das, and the group met for the first time on January 7, 2017.
People came to the first meeting with pieces in different languages and the multilingual character of the sessions was established organically. The readings are mostly in Bengali and English – not surprising, since these are the two languages that people in the group are most comfortable with. However, it is not as if other languages are missing – almost all meetings have Hindi and Urdu readings. And some members bring German and French texts. Of course, Das occasionally reminds us that we can’t confine ourselves to reading only in one language.