Mumbai: Climb up a ladder, read a book, under the sky

Updated: Aug 25, 2019, 07:21 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Come October, you can enjoy picking and reading a book at a pavilion that will pop up on the lawns of CSMVS for two months

A model of how the plywood pavilion will worm through the lawns to offer a browsing experience along a meandering pathway
A model of how the plywood pavilion will worm through the lawns to offer a browsing experience along a meandering pathway

It's an unusually muggy day in August but the rain-kissed grass at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) remind us that the rains haven't bid us goodbye. "It's the perfect setting," nods architect Nuru Karim, widening his gaze to the Indo Saracenic museum façade in the backdrop. His assistants, meanwhile, place a miniature model of a matrix-like installation on the lawns. "I am seeing the model for the first time!" says an excited Priyasri Patodia, gallerist.

The duo has been planning a pop-up books pavilion for the city and is happy that their project will fructify in a little over a month's time. Karim breaks it down, "The bookworm pop-up is a 120ft x 40ft linear temporary installation; it's a 'House of Books' constructed out of a modular pre-fabricated ladder system to house titles and spaces for reading." Patodia says the project focuses primarily on the 0-18 age group.

Designs on books

"We've been talking about this for years, but there was no money," she smiles. However, in February, when the third edition of Karim's show, NUDES was up at her Worli gallery, the two decided it was time. "Public art projects connect to thematic areas that involves overall human development, whether water, health or sanitation. But, the idea of this pavilion is to foster a love for reading. Everyone is obsessed with gadgets [today]; the tactile experience of reading a book is fading," says Karim.

An artist's impression of how the pavilion can be experienced inside out to offer shaded reading and browsing zones. Pic courtesy/Nuru Karim
An artist's impression of how the pavilion can be experienced inside out to offer shaded reading and browsing zones. Pic courtesy/Nuru Karim

Interestingly, both drew from their past to fuel the idea. Karim recalls his student days in London, when he'd be "with a sandwich, an apple and a book on campus." For Patodia, it was her time in Baroda, when multiplexes didn't exist. "So the family would head to museums," she recalls. "If we don't start working with this generation and the next, India will lose its history and ancient texts. If they are made aware of it, and able to connect it with the present, it's our victory."

A moving idea

Karim was clear that the structure had to be modular, with a low carbon footprint. "We couldn't put a nail in the lawns and it cannot take a heavy load, plus it had to be deployable because after these two months, we'd like to move it to a new place. For example, if this were to become a permanent idea in a village somwhere in India, we could fashion the structure out of bamboo or terracota," he shares. This pop up pavilion will be made from recycled plywood and assembled with nuts and bolts. Ninety percent of the fabrication will be pre-done, and minor finishes will take place on site.

The project took close to nine months of design and research. The larger idea was to decentralise the thought that reading should be an indoor activity, and bring it outside, into a public space. "We wanted it [the pavilion] to be a magnet where people could pick a book in any Indian language and enjoy the experience. And not just reading, we hope it becomes a space for other activities, too," says Bilwa Kulkarni-Poddar, education officer at CSMVS. The pop-up's duration coincides with a busy itinerary due to the holiday season.

Nuru Karim and Priyasri Patodia. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Nuru Karim and Priyasri Patodia. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

"In fact, it would be great if Karim does a model-making workshop right here," she suggests, pointing to the recently opened children's museum within the campus. Karim and Patodia hope to travel with the pavilion and spread the message of empowerment through education and learning. "I am keener for it to reach semi-urban and rural India because people there are closer to their roots," reasons Patodia.

"We will put it out there; hopefully, corporates or the government will take it to the next level," says Karim. "It's never a fiscal issue. We believe that if there is intent, and if it is a good concept, people will fund it. Often, it's about timing," he reminds us. "We've had the full support from Sabyasachi Mukherjee," he says of the CSMVS director. "And, we'd love to do a version two, or three elsewhere. If we scale this up, the template can be used for a permanent school library even." The books pavilion will be up at CSMVS, Fort, from October 1 to November 30.

Also Read: The Zoya Factor: From book to the big screen

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