I read a piece in ‘Chandigarh Metro’ which read ‘Shimla gets a new book cafe and it is run by prisoners of Shimla jail.’ I was astonished to see the headline and clicked on the link to go through the entire story. According to the article, the detainees of Shimla jail are running the café at the place just above the ridge called ‘Takka Bench.’ The café has a seating capacity of 40 people with a Wi-Fi facility, and fast food items for the visitors. It retains books for those who want to sit in and read. People can pick out a book of their choice and devote a day gaining knowledge of their preference.
The piece of writing also included the details of the prisoners who continue to run the café. According to the article, Darshan Singh, Jai Chand, and Yograj are serving life sentences for murder and other charges at Shimla Jail. The local Municipal Corporation and the Shimla jail officials have allowed Darshan, Jai, Yograj to run the Cafe during daylight hours.
This reminded me of the day when I visited Shimla and caught a sight of the café there. It was beautifully fashioned from its shell and pulled my attention at first instance. The first thing that came to my mind was not the books, wifi or any other thing, it was the divine structure that was standing up in front of me proudly as if competing for nature in splendor. My eyes then read ‘Book Café’ on it and I, being a persistent reader and a book lover spent my day inside.
On the last day of my one-week vacation to Shimla, I picked up a corner seat in the café with my laptop and started working. The atmosphere inside the espresso bar was cerebral and was no less than a co-working space. In the midst of the mind-boggling work, I grabbed a cookie and a cup of tea. What enchanted me the most was the social graces of the three men who were taking care of the café. No one could assume that they have been charged with murder. I interacted with them and they reciprocated in a similar manner, addressing me as ‘ma’am.’ In the evening, Sanjay Chauhan, Mayor of Shimla, visited the café and greeted everyone. He also invited views of the visitors on the newly-constructed building.
The café has options not even for readers but for non-readers as well. Both the local people and tourists were visiting inside and spending time there. It is a new hub for timeless intellectual discussions as I found a group of senior citizens, interacting with each other, reciting poems and Shayari. I found youngsters sitting there taking notes of their guitar classes. At the same time, I found kids turning around the pages of their favorite book. The chats inside the café reminded me of the environment of the Indian Coffee House on the mall road.
Indian Coffee House was started by a series of worker co-operative societies and has a strong presence across India with nearly 400 coffee houses. There was a time when people for interesting discussions used to gather at Indian Coffee House. Since 1957, the historic coffee house has witnessed many countless arguments and debates from past several years and will continue to do so. But, it seemed like in the structure of contemporary book café, people have found something new and exciting on the mall road. Can it be said that it is a modern era’s Indian Coffee House on the mall road? People are gathering in the Book Café as they gather in Indian Coffee House, they sit, discuss, debate and spend their leisure time there. Not only veterans, but it is becoming a demanding place for youngsters and children also. Can it be said that it has chances to grow as one of the favorite spots of people in Shimla? Well, let’s see.