Lalbagh Reads, a cherished reading community nestled in Bengaluru’s enchanting Lalbagh Botanical Garden, finds itself confronted with an unforeseen challenge. The serene act of reading amid nature is now regarded as a potential threat to the delicate ecological balance of the garden. The Deputy Director of the Horticulture Department at Lalbagh has recently issued a directive, instructing the community to cease their activities, citing a deviation from departmental guidelines.
Lalbagh Reads, a volunteer-led chapter of the global Cubbon Reads movement founded by Shruti Sah and Harsh Snehanshu, has established itself in sixty cities worldwide. In Bengaluru alone, this movement has given rise to spin-offs such as Whitefield Reads, Sankey Reads, Hosur Sarjapura Road Reads, and Bharatiya City Reads.
The shift in Lalbagh Reads’ operations arises from their commitment to comply with regulations set forth by the Lalbagh Botanical Garden’s administration. This directive stemmed from a complaint filed by a garden visitor who observed the group reading on the grass last Sunday. The statement released by Lalbagh Reads revealed, “The Deputy Director of the Horticulture Department at Lalbagh has instructed us to immediately halt our initiative as the Department does not permit it. This direction follows a complaint they received from another citizen who visited Lalbagh last Sunday, found our group sitting on the grass and reading, and believed that our presence as a group disrupts the growth of natural fauna and flora.”
Despite this setback, Lalbagh Reads remains dedicated to the emotional and mental well-being of its members. The community plans to continue individual gatherings at Lalbagh on Sundays during regular hours for independent reading. They expressed their disappointment, stating, “It truly saddens us as this regulation is not stated anywhere within the garden premises. However, following the Deputy Director’s instructions, individual readers can still visit Lalbagh, select a spot, and read on their own, albeit without a mat.”
Furthermore, Lalbagh Reads advises independent readers not to place mats on the grass and to refrain from bringing food or bottled water to the garden, as these items are not permitted. In a bid to comply with the Deputy Director’s directives, the community will also undergo a rebranding, adopting the name “South B’luru Reads” to align with established rules, as it has come to their attention that using the name “Lalbagh” in the community’s title contradicts these regulations.
This recent development brings to the forefront a broader issue regarding unique regulations governing public spaces in Bengaluru. In specific areas, an unspoken rule prohibits sitting on the grass. Earlier this year, the Horticulture Department issued revised rules governing public conduct within Cubbon Park, further reflecting a seemingly colonial and authoritarian mindset. These rules encompass prohibitions against activities such as playing games, eating, conducting theatre performances, couples engaging in ‘obscene’ behavior, and gathering in groups within the park.
Reports highlight instances where guards have used whistles and megaphones to enforce these rules. In some cases, sprinklers have even been activated to disperse couples and prevent ‘indecent’ behavior. The justifications for these rules range from maintaining cleanliness, preventing property damage, reducing noise pollution, and preserving a sanitized environment for foreign visitors, who may be uncomfortable with couples enjoying the park. Additionally, they claim to ensure the safety of ground-seated couples from potential snake and insect encounters.