Shimla’s Book Cafe run by prisoners of Shimla jail

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.


My BEST New Year

“How strange it is, we have 31 million seconds in a year and all this passes like a dream, just like you close your eyes, make a wish, open it and it’s a new year” I wondered, laying on the sofa in the living room, sipping a cup of coffee.

The clock struck half past 11. “Only half an hour and it’s a new year,” I said to myself, turning another page of the book. “How strange it is, we have 31 million seconds in a year and all this passes like a dream, just like you close your eyes, make a wish, open it and it’s a new year” I wondered, laying on the sofa in the living room, sipping a cup of coffee.

I dwelled in a 3 BHK apartment, of which one room was occupied by my parents, one by my younger sister (which was actually mine before I left home) and one was the living room for guests. My parents were busy in their dreams and my sister with her friend. I, for the sake of giving her a sort of privacy decided to spend time in the living room (having no other option for myself).

I again looked at the clock impatiently, though; I had not planned anything special for myself on New Year eve except my book and coffee. It seemed like time was more impatient than me because it was 11:45 this time. I could hear the sounds of the bursting of crackers. The celebration had begun and of course, we had all successfully completed another long and tiring 365 days journey and were ready for a new one. In fact, it was not just a celebration but a medium to express the happiness of stepping into another new phase of life by manifesting positive vibes, fighting against all odds and challenges, learning from the past and moving on. It was a way to tell the universe that we have won one more battle and is ready for a more challenging one.

I kept my book on the table and picked up my phone. Having expected pre-new year updates on Facebook, I started scrolling my wall. I was, in fact, right. People had actually started cutting cakes, partying in the disc. I was also trying to make myself happy by hitting the like button on their blissful moments. “I wish I could go back to Shimla,” I thought in my mind, keeping my phone aside for a while. I had just completed my studies and shifted to Delhi for a job. But, I was deeply missing my friends who were still in Shimla. “Nah, home is the best option” I tried to fix my mood, making myself more comfortable on the sofa.
I started glancing at the family picture on the living room wall and asked myself why I was sad despite the fact that on my very first day of the New Year, I was with the best people in my life, my family. Going out and chilling with friends is not the only way to celebrate. A person’s happiness lies within him. For him, every moment, every day and every year are new and cheerful if his inner being is content. Thus, I gave my mixed thoughts a break and smiled.

In reality, my new year had already started from the morning when I caught a smile on my grandmother’s face after arriving home, with the delicious food that my mother had prepared specially for me, with my sister’s happiness when I gave her the new year gift and with the lustre in my father’s eyes when he saw his daughter for the first time after she had joined her new job. Nothing could be better than this.
All of a sudden, a hissing sound hit my ears. “Sandy” I wondered and then realized that I had left my pet sleeping in the cozy bed in my parent’s room. “She must be sleeping,” I said to myself. Who would like to get out of a warm bed in such a cold weather? Even a human being wouldn’t like to do so and she was just a 4  -year-old adorable pug. “She can’t be here,” I said to myself and ignored.

But, the hissing sound continued. I turned my head around to clear the confusion. I was right. Sandy was standing right in front of my eyes. Her eyes gleamed at me. “Sanduu” I called her with a motherly heart and she came to me excitedly. She kept her little paws on the sofa smoothly signaling her intent to come up. I pulled her up tenderly. She licked me all over my face as if she had found someone long lost and I too hugged her tightly in return. Afterward, she sat on my lap, put her head down and slept peacefully.

It was 12 PM and 2017 had finally arrived. Everyone around the globe was celebrating it in their way, posting wonderful pictures on Facebook. I took my phone, clicked a picture with sleeping sandy and posted it on Facebook. After I did that, I realized that my new year was indeed very special with the one who was my true, genuine and a lifetime friend, who left a warm, cozy bed in such a chilling weather just because one of her family members was missing. She got up and hunted down her missing companion. She wanted to sleep where I was sitting, no matter how cold the weather was. This is what we call selfless love. All I knew was that it was my best New Year eve because I was with the one who was true to me, who loves me the most and for whom my existence was the most exciting thing in this world. I kissed my sleeping beauty on her forehead overwhelmingly and welcomed the New Year with my three best friends- book, coffee, and Sandy.