The mobile bookstore

It was almost 9 pm that day in April when the taxi turned into the lane leading to my house. It had been a long day at work and I was tired and hungry with the beginnings of a headache. All I could think of was dinner, a long cold shower, and sleep.

The lane is not very well-lit, and I was surprised to see it blazing with light. There was a large van parked in the lane and some kind of display on the road. Curious, I got off the cab at the entrance to the lane, paid the driver and walked towards the light, or rather the van and the display. To my surprise and delight, it was a display of books and the van was a mobile bookshop. And to over see all this was a man sitting at one end of the display and reading a book.

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Book Review: The Painted Towns of Shekhawati

I am usually inspired to read about a place after a visit there; I have also been known to pick up something to read once I have decided to visit a place. As for packing my bags and heading to a destination after reading about it? Never, though I have added a destination to a mental list of places to visit.

Did I just say never? Actually, that has now changed to ‘just once’ when I visited the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan after reading a book about its painted havelis or mansions in January this year. The Painted Towns of Shekhawati by Ilay Cooper was a serendipitous find, and I want to first share how I found the book with you before telling you what the book is all about.

The Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Book Art Book, Ilay CooperIt was a rainy August day in 2014 and I was feeling quite sorry for myself at that time. All my travel plans were falling through for some reason or the other, which meant that I hadn’t travelled anywhere that year.

A casual twitter conversation with a friend on the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) got me thinking about attending the festival in 2015 and maybe combining it with some travel to places around Jaipur.

A simple Google search threw up Shekhawati as a possible place to visit. A little deeper search and book on The Painted Towns of Shekhawati popped up. Though I was aware of the painted havelis in Shekhawati, I was more than a little sketchy on the details. The book intrigued me enough to place an order and the book was in my hands a few days later.

The first thing I did after reading the book was to apply for leave at work, write out a tentative itinerary, and book the hotel and flight tickets (not necessarily in this order). Yes, I had decided to go to Shekhawati after reading the book.

So what was in the book that got me all set to travel to Shekhawati?

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A cup of tea

I love short stories and it is my preferred form of fiction. So, its not surprising that the very first post I wrote for “The Sunday Book Club’s Blog” in July 2013 was on short stories. Actually, it was on one short story and one of my favourites, in particular. I reproduce that post here with some minor modifications.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield was first published in 1992, and it remains one of Mansfield’s best known stories today. The plot is fairly simple:

It is a cold and wet day in London. After a visit to the shops, Rosemary Fell is about to get into her chauffeur-driven car, when she is approached by a penniless young girl, Miss Smith, for money that would buy her a cup of tea.

‘… It’s a cup of tea I want, madam.’ And she burst into tears.

Rosemary is intrigued as she cannot believe that a person cannot have money to buy a cup of tea. Inspired to do more — she persuades the young Ms. Smith to come home with her  — she visualises transforming the poor girl’s life, and becoming the talk of the high society she moves in. When she reaches home, Philip, Rosemary’s husband, is surprised to see Ms. Smith and also hear about Rosemary’s plans for the girl’s future. He leaves Rosemary and Ms. Smith, but not before mentioning to Rosemary that the girl was

‘…so astonishingly pretty.’

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An afternoon, graphic novels and Goodreads

It’s a quiet afternoon at home on one of the days of the long Dussera weekend we’ve just had. I am sorting through and rearranging my bookshelves in an attempt to make space for my ever-growing number of books. The first thing I do is to remove all the books from their shelves and separate them genre-wise. Soon, there are piles of books grouped all over the room.

It is a beautiful sight. :-)

Now comes the difficult part. I need to identify books that I can bear to part with and give away to libraries or to people who want them. Progress is slow, as I get distracted by some of my favourite books among them, often opening them to read passages and lines. It’s like meeting old friends, you know.

The afternoon passes by pleasurably as I move from book pile to book pile, genre to genre. The last pile of books are all Graphic Novels of varying sizes. As I sort and stack them by size and series, I am amazed at just how many of them there are.

“How did it get to be so much? When did it even start?” I ask myself as I stare at the now sorted books in this genre.

Graphic novels, Book collection

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Book Review: The Museum of Literary Souls

The Museum of Literary Souls, John Connolly, ebookHave you ever noticed that extraordinary things only seem to happen to ordinary people?

In real life. In films. In books. Especially in books.

Take for example, Mr. Berger of “The Museum of Literary Souls” by John Connolly (ebook, StoryFront, 2013). Mr. Berger, the protagonist of this story leads a rather dull existence of unvarying routine.

He is single, never been married, and lives alone in London. He works for the housing department of a rather minor council as an Assistant Registrar.

His position as registrar paid neither badly nor particularly well but was enough to keep him clothed and fed, and maintain a roof above his head. Most of the remainder went on books. Mr. Berger led a life of imagination, fed by stories. His flat was lined with shelves, and those shelves were filled with books that he loved…

Mr Berger might sometimes have been a little lonely, but he was never bored and never unhappy, and he counted his days by the books he read.

In all probability, Mr. Berger might have continued living his life in a similar manner for the rest of his life, if not for his mother’s death. Her bequest, though not a great fortune by any standards, was enough for him to resign from his job, move into his mother’s house in the countryside, and attempt to live out his dream of becoming a writer. A new routine developed, another unvarying one that included reading, writing, walks in the countryside and an occasional visit to the local pub.

One evening something happened. Something that shifted the equilibrium in his carefully ordered life.

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Knowledge Whiteboard Library

Ever so often I come across an initiative, an organisation, a person or a group of people, a book, a film, an article, a piece of music… that leaves me feeling enthused. Since it also leaves me wondering why I haven’t heard of it before, I set off on an eager and happy quest to find out more about it. When such an initiative is that of a friend, it leaves me a little shocked. Pleasantly and happily shocked, I must hasten to clarify, as it happened when I heard of the Knowledge Whiteboard Library. Let me elaborate.

It all began with a telephone conversation a couple of months back with Rajshri Mahtani, founder of Knowledge Whiteboard (KW), and also a friend and a former colleague. Somewhere during our conversation Rajshri casually mentioned something about a library at the KW and the growing collection of books. I was intrigued and was left thinking… library? What library? How come I don’t know anything about it?

I decided to visit the KW office, which is located Santacruz in Mumbai and find out more about the library for myself. Sometime last month that is just what I did and sure enough, there was an interesting story waiting for me. :)

Knowledge Whiteboard Library

Dr. Rajshri Mahtani

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