By Surabhi Singh:Â
“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
The idea of starting the state’s first Libro Cafe began with a simple desire to break monotony of a couple of restless souls. That it would broaden the horizon of reading in a city where spending time is about watching movies, shopping in malls and going for weekend trips to nearby haunts- came later. But soon enough, the same idea became a platform for the intelligentsia to pitch in their savoury plans about changing the society and making the neighbourhood a better place to live in. This is the journey of Octavo- the Libro Cafe.
The two libro cafes in Raipur city of Chhattisgarh are raising a storm of vocal ideas; a storm that threatens to question the very basic foundation of our comfort zone and dares us to go much beyond to make a hyperbole of development and progress- a resounding parable of intellect. The founders, a couple of media personalities who were interested to find some excitement in their otherwise mundane lives, are book lovers with dreams of a Utopian society. They decided on opening a book club first, but quickly moved on to extending the idea to a broader horizon of a libro cafe.
After the initial struggle of finding a cafe and beginning the registration process, they were joined by another young entrepreneur who designed the cafe with more panache. Octavo an ancient Latin word to technically describe a book, became an overnight sensation with its inauguration on October 27, 2013. Bibliophiles from every nook and corner of the city joined in steadily and in just a year, there were more than a 100 members. A one of a kind libro cafe, it boasts of an enviable collection of over 1000 paperbacks in English and Hindi languages. The library has some rare collections of biographies including those of Bhagat Singh and singer Mohammad Rafi.
But this is not where the uniqueness of this initiative lies. The libro cafe in its varied sessions known as “the Octavo Campfire” began to hold discussions on reading, authors, banned books, culture, cross culture, politics, youth, homosexuality, marriage, dowry, rapes, misogyny and more; something that had never happened for this sleepy city before. Young people, middle aged housewives, government officials, lawyers, journalists and doctors sat together each fortnight and poured in their passions with elaborate eloquence. The libro cafe is now a cultural theatre also, where artists from varied backgrounds create their own plays and enact their soliloquies with abundance of imagination, which is drenched in satisfaction.
Octavo is opening the doors to many closets, helping its members identify their structural relevance as thoughtful humans. There are book donation campaigns and there are celebrations of the works of Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Arundhati Roy, Khaled Hosseini, Khushwant Singh, Stephen King, Jeffry Archer, Malala Yousafzai, Tasleema Nasreen and Chetan Bhagat. The libro cafe located in two distinct restaurants in the heart of the city has done what none of the political or social organisations could do in so many years. It has brought people from myriad social, cultural, economical and religious backgrounds under one roof to talk about their passions and dreams. They relate with stories, question traditions, pursue knowledge, doubt diktats, accept theories, counter norms, and most of all, they love books. What has been the fundamental achievement of this book club? It has given hopes to many people that they can rise above mediocrity, holding their paint brushes, pens, needles and even dreams to sketch a life of their own choice. When the members meet the fellow Octavians- each with a story to tell, there is an instant camaraderie developing and the bond grows only stronger with each passing day.
This small family of book lovers might be the platform to raise hell when next time someone comes questioning or giving orders on who should be loved, by whom and just how much!