Through RAPO, a Facebook page, book lovers read and pass on books, free of cost. SUBHA J RAO has the details 

Two months ago, Menaka Sankaralingam, 35 and a mother of two, was browsing the Net when she saw a forum where people sold old books for just Rs. 25. “One might very well give them away for free,” she thought. That very afternoon, she created a Facebook forum, ‘Read And Pass On’ (RAPO), where people are encouraged to pass a book around to members once they have read it. They also post short reviews. Today, the group has nearly 300 members and about 70 books have made their way to and from Jammu, Gurgaon, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune.

Sending the first book

The first book out on RAPO was Three Lives: In Search of Bliss. K.S. Selvakumar, 53, who works in Jammu, sent it to Chennai. He heard of the group from Menaka, a friend, and says, “I wanted others to read this book.” One of the earliest to RAPO was Priya V.K. Singh from Gurgaon. Her book went to Sridhar Pabbisetty in Bangalore. Initially, she used speed post (“once, the charges were nearly as much as the book’s cost!”). Then, she switched to the more inexpensive registered post; this ensured that distances don’t matter.

But, how easy is it to say goodbye to a well-loved book from your bookshelf? For Priya, the decision was easy. “I’ve been doing it for more than six months, ever since I decided to reduce personal possessions. Earlier, I sent books to lending libraries; now I also RAPO,” she says.

But will RAPO work at a time when people are keen on building home libraries? “Yes,” says Priya. “Some like to share the joy of reading and bond with like-minded people via books; they have outgrown the urge to possess everything they read.”

For Menaka, it was merely a formal extension of what most have been doing through school and college — exchanging books with friends. “Only, here we prepare ourselves to part with books,” says Menaka.

Devi Sambamoorthy is 34 and loves bestsellers. “Until 20 years ago, I was mainly into Tamil fiction and missed out on a whole body of work by English authors,” she says. The reviews on RAPO help her decide which book to read. When she heard about RAPO, she checked which books she could part with. “I love all my books,” she thought, before it dawned on her that unless she gave, it would not be ethical to ask and receive. So, she took out her second copy of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and posted it on RAPO. Six seconds later, there was a response!

Menaka says some books don’t really deserve shelf space and it makes sense to pass them on. Devi feels RAPO will influence her future buying decisions — on whether the books are to preserve or pass on.

RAPOing is also about trust — that the receiver will not hold on to the books. The rules help. “Every member must RAPO a book before asking for one,” says Priya. Also, members are allowed to keep a book for as long as they want before they pass it on. Menaka says that when she started, the idea was to RAPO within Chennai, but the idea caught on elsewhere too. The rules allow for the receiver to pay for the courier charges. Some share expenses. Other senders pay. Or, they meet in a common place and exchange books. Menaka says that people exercise caution while sharing addresses.

Tracking books

A spreadsheet helps track a book’s journey. A website is also on the anvil. In many ways, the group is a joint effort — a member chipped in to design the logo. Once strangers, the members now bond on the forum. “You know them in a different way,” says Selvakumar. If anything, he wonders if by such sharing, authors lose out on royalty.

“It feels good to belong to a community of persons who take the trouble to neatly pack and mail a book just for your reading pleasure,” says Priya, who felt great joy when she sent a set of books to Chennai, a city where she underwent training 20 years ago!

Visit them at http://www.facebook.com/groups/ReadAndPassOn/