This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Maharashtra — in this literary journey across India.
Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar (Hardback, 228 pages, 2013, Hamish Hamilton) is probably the only book I have ever bought without reading either the author or book blurb, or even a sample page or two.
I didn’t really need to after I saw who had translated this book from the original Marathi into English — Jerry Pinto. I was immediately intrigued as till then I had only read Pinto’s original writing in English and hadn’t known that he did translations !
And so a copy of Cobalt Blue was bought with the intention of reading it soon. But that didn’t happen and the book lay in my to-be-read-pile of books for nearly 2 years, and would probably still be there if not for #TSBCReadsIndia. While shortlisting the book for Maharashtra, I remembered Cobalt Blue and after a quick look at it found that it fit the two basic criteria that I had set for a book to qualify for this reading challenge — (i) it was a translation, and (ii) it was recent.
This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Tamil Nadu — in this literary journey across India.
I first heard of the controversy on Twitter. What started off as a few stray tweets in the morning, had turned into a full-blown outrage by the afternoon. Normally, I ignore twitter outrages as I find them tiresome, but this was different as it was about a book.
I followed the outrage that day on Twitter and then as Twitter predictably found something new to outrage about the next day, I moved to other sources of information. I also bought a Kindle version of the book with the intention of reading it at the earliest. Soon the controversy died down, the media moved to other stories, and the book remained unread.
Then #TSBCReadsIndia happened and I decided on Tamil Nadu as the first stop in my literary journey across India. That’s when I remembered One Part Woman, and realised that it was a book that fit all my criteria for the reading challenge — it was translated, it was recent, and the controversy surrounding the book was the bonus. :)
About a year back, I stumbled across Ann Morgan’s fabulous blog,A Year of Reading the World. I was completely blown away by what she had written there and with good reason too !
In 2012, Ann Morgan had embarked on a year-long journey of the literary kind. She read a book from every independent country in the world, which meant that she read a total of 196 books that year. Ann then went on to write Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, a book which talks about this literary journey of hers — the stories, the research, the people involved — and how it changed her thinking and her perception of the world.
Reading Ann’s literary journey first on her blog and then in her book, got me thinking about reading my immediate world that is, India. Reading India’s diversity and sub-cultures through her 29 States and 7 Union Territories. Reading India one book at a time would be a literary journey with a difference, a reading challenge with a difference.
I was so inspired and excited that I discussed this idea with my co-founders at The Sunday Book Club (TSBC). The result of that discussion was the introduction of this unique India-centred reading challenge on TSBC. And that’s how the hashtag #TSBCReadsIndiawas born in February 2015.
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.
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 Shekhawatiby 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.
It 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?
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.
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