The other day, I received a tweet from a person I follow. It was a picture of the ‘Underground New York Public Library’. This instantly tickled my curiosity — no, not because, it said ‘library’, but because, it said: ‘New York Public Library’.
Two years ago, while on a trip to New York, the NYPL used to be our favourite hang out. The sheer magnificence of this building captivated people like us from all over the world. Strangely, at that time, we didn’t sit in that enormous reading hall and enjoy the company of books. We sat there instead, gazing at the number of people walking in and out for hours.
Of course, the architecture itself was just as engrossing, not to forget the beautiful decor, chandeliers, rows and rows of furniture with people and the sheer number of books. As we walked admiring the paintings and splendour of the library, we wondered how could any one possibly handle such an open encyclopaedia? We took pictures with the original Pooh Bear, we walked past many expensive manuscripts and hoped to catch a glimpse of someone famous. Of course, we would never know, if he or she were to be buried inside a book, but the thought enchanted us anyway.
The twitter feed, brought back all the memories. It was too much of a temptation to resist. I clicked on the link that had the picture. I assumed I would find a photo of this library and I waited patiently for the browser to fill me in. However, what flashed up on the screen surprised me. There was no library. But staring at me was the image of the New York underground Metro! Metro? I couldn’t believe it. How could that possibly become a library? A few minutes of reading told me everything. The person who took this picture was in the habit of clicking people who voraciously read while on the Metro. Apart from taking pictures of people reading, he also found out what books they read. It was fascinating to say the least.
I scrolled down and explored the website. The whole place was filled with people in various positions reading books — all sorts of books. Physical books. It reminded me of my uncle in the city of Mumbai. Uncle always told me how he spent his time travelling in Mumbai. Travelling in Mumbai, like the popular adage goes, is an art. You got to know how to hang in there in the train, else you would get hauled out before you knew it. This popular mode of transport is the lifeline of the city. As a little girl, I listened to uncle who filled me in with fascinating stories. It baffled me how a group of people, initially unknown, had become “train friends” over the years. It was here that uncle also took to his obsession. Except, he didn’t read but solved the popular crossword puzzle.
Personally, I have never travelled long distance doing nothing every day. Perhaps reading is a norm. Recently, a popular publishing house even came out with many books to cater to these very people who travel on the Metro. Strangely, it is something I cannot do. I did try once. I boarded the Metro armed with a book. But I soon found that I was more worried about missing my station than garnering any interest in my book. There was one other thing — I also looked up constantly to check if my neighbour peeked into my book. Frustrated, I gave up. I have since reconciled that underground reading isn’t my thing. But, I wonder, if this person from New York were to take pictures of people on Dubai Metro — what would be the theme? One thing I can be sure — it would definitely not be about reading books.