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A book café in Shimla run by two prisoners serving life terms

Conceptualised by the Himachal Pradesh prison department, Book Café is an enterprise for the reformation of prisoners

November 25, 2017 04:23 pm | Updated 04:23 pm IST

The library has over 457 books, donated by authors, locals, and tourists

The library has over 457 books, donated by authors, locals, and tourists

Under the wing-like leaves of a deodar tree in touristy Shimla, a girl reads a book on Kindle; four others jostling for space in three chairs whisper excitedly, exam guides open in front of them; another young man is engrossed in the quest of Brida in Paulo Coelho’s eponymous novel. The phones are silent. It is yet another quiet day at Book Café, a library-cum-café run by Yograj and Subhas Chand, two prisoners serving life-term at Kaithu sub-jail of Shimla.

Forget the chill

Yograj, 27, and Subhas, 44, walk to and fro between the jail and Book Café every day without police surveillance. When they are not serving pizzas and cookies to customers at the café, they read, borrowing books from the library’s well-stocked shelves.

Conceptualised by the Himachal Pradesh prison department, Book Café is an enterprise for the reformation of prisoners. The library has over 457 books, most of them donated by authors, local residents and tourists from places as far as Kerala. The place has free WiFi, a Kindle for e-book readers and hundreds of books and magazines for those who prefer the feel of paper.

“The beautiful scenery and the rich collection of books inside make this place bookworms’ favourite haunt. It has a lot of vibes: it is not sombre like a traditional library,” says 20-year-old Abhishek Prince, a student of English Literature in Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla.

Students come here in hordes: some of them feel that the library should have more books on competitive exams to cater to civil service aspirants.

But the café, which opened in April 2017, has already become a favourite of littérateurs. Every week, writers and poets meet here for book readings, notwithstanding the chill in the air.

“We organise our readings in the evenings so as not to disturb students during daytime. This place, small though it is, has provided us with a platform to read and share. We don’t advertise on social media. Getting a seat becomes a problem when more people turn up for events,” says S.R. Harnot, a poet who is a regular at the book reading sessions at Book Café.

The inmates of Kaithu jail too find the company of books and readers gratifying.“I enjoy reading about the history of Shimla — what the city was like during British times,” says an extra-courteous Yograj, who reads history books whenever he gets free time.

For Subhas, the café is a great place to stay in touch with the outside world. “When in jail, we interact with co-prisoners only. Book Café has been a welcome change; it keeps my mind occupied,” Chand says softly. He has spent 15 years in jail, and now badly craves for a life outside the prison. “Sometimes I read Hindi language books to understand the world beyond,” he says, holding a copy of Ramesh Upadhyaya’s Behatar Duniya Ki Talash Mein (In Search of a Better World).

The Uttarakhand-based writer explores the lives of those who walk the mountains.

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