Of writers and tête-à-têtes

The topic of discussion on #TSBC for Sunday, June 26th was “Literary Cities”. The discussion was an animated one and towards the end, one of the participants (I can’t remember who it was now) tweeted that the literary capital of India was Mussoorie or Landour, because that’s where many of the writers were based. If anybody wanted to meet writers, that’s where one had to go !

I couldn’t help smiling when I read the tweet for I was leaving for a much awaited short holiday in the hills to Landour and Mussoorie the very next day. My agenda for the holiday was to relax, read and generally chill out. Literary capital of the country or not, seeking out or meeting writers in Mussoorie / Landour was not on my agenda. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who loves books and all things bookish, but I prefer reading books to talking to their writers.

But Mussoorie / Landour had other plans in store for me as I was soon to find out. It began with my coming across a shelf full of books by Mussoorie-based writers at the Landour Bakehouse (see photograph below), which made me realise just how many writers were based there. It ended with me having a serendipitous and unexpected tête-à-têtes with two writers and exchanging greetings with a third.

Writers of Mussoorie, Zarina Bhatty, From Purdah to Piccadilly, Bill Aitken, Ruskin Bond, Stephen Alter, Hugh and Colleen Gantzer Continue reading

Book Review: Waters Close Over Us

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 book from Madhya Pradesh and the third of the 36 books to be read in this literary journey across India.

My earliest travel memories revolve around trains and river crossings, in particular the Narmada at Bharuch. I remember being awed by the expanse of the river flowing the railway bridge, and wondering where all that water was coming from and where it was going to. As the train crossed the river, my mother and I would fling coins from the train window into the Narmada. These were offerings, my mother would whisper into my ears, for the Narmada as it was life-sustaining and, therefore, sacred. Together, we would fold our hands and bow before the river.

Decades have passed since those train journeys. I no longer throw coins into the Narmada or other rivers from the train window, but my fascination and reverence for rivers — especially the Narmada — continues even today. And that was the reason I bought a copy of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada (HB, 242 pages, 2013, Fourth Estate) by Hartosh Singh Bal, soon after its release.

Waters Close Upon usThe book lay unread for almost 2 years and then #TSBCReadsIndia happened. I did not even have to think twice before selecting this book as my read for Madhya Pradesh. There couldn’t be a more apt book for as just as Madhya Pradesh is the geographical heart of India, so is the river Narmada. Continue reading

Book Review: Cobalt Blue

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, Sachin Kundalkar, Translated Book, Marathi to English, Jerry Pinto, Hamish Hamilton, Novel, Fiction, #TSBCReadsIndiaCobalt 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.

Perfect. I got down to reading it immediately.🙂

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Book Review: One Part Woman

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.

One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan, e-book, Kindle edition, Banned BookPrior to the controversy over the Tamil novel, Madhorubagan, I hadn’t heard of either the novel or its author, Perumal Murugan. Or about the English translation of this book, One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan.

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.🙂

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Reading India with #TSBC

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 #TSBCReadsIndia was born in February 2015.

So, how does #TSBCReadsIndia work? Continue reading

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.

Mobile Book Shop, Continue reading