Thirty Dates in Thirty Days

Wake up. Wash hands. Cook food. Wash hands. Finish editing the article. Wash hands. Eat. Wash hands. Webstream and chill. Wash hands. Eat. Wash hands. Scroll down the news feed. Read. Wash hands. Off to bed. Wake up. Repeat. One day was rolling into another, an endless loop with nothing except sundown and sunrise to mark the fact that the date had changed. The day I picked up my phone to check whether the day was Sunday or Monday, I realized something had to give. I had to break this infinite loop before it started feeling like a noose tightening around me.

I needed help, and so I turned to my oldest and most trusted friends – stories. Stories have always been my portal to different times, different spaces. They’ve been the most stress-free way to make new acquaintances, some who became lifelong friends with permanent spots on my bookshelves and some from whom I grew apart, and they moved on. Continuing with the next one on my 2020 reading list did not feel right. Nothing in 2020 was going as per plan, so why should my reading plan be spared!

 

The thing with the lockdown and this pandemic is that there is no missing endpoint. No one, not scientists, doctors, experts… no one can do anything more than shrug when asked – when will this end? What we are hoping for is a single word answer, what we get is a thesis filled with data, ifs and buts, and before they get into the appendices, we have tuned off. This lack of an end in sight is unnerving. That’s what my loopy routine needed – a way to mark the end of the day and something new to look forward to the next day. Stories in long-form would not fall in line with this plan. Maybe, short stories? Novellas? And then it struck me – a new acquaintance every day and perhaps to reacquaint with a few who have been sitting around gaining wrinkles.

 

I start at a happy place – a childhood favourite, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. Rereading it after almost three decades, I realize that this time around I catch the parable that the writer has whispered between the lines. I sleep happy that night. Next on the cards are short stories by Philip Roth who had left quite an impression on me last year with his Goodbye, Columbus. The short stories I pick focus on the theme of religion and tolerance without being overbearing. Another childhood favourite Astrid Lindgreen’s Pippi Longstocking sweeps me up in nostalgia. Next, I mix things up with reading a play script, something which I usually do with a group of friends. But, hey friends have dehydrated into pings on the phone and boxes on the computer screen! I pick a long overdue read Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House, a play layered with social and individual tension.

 

Ibsen’s comment on society nudges me in the direction of Saadat Manto’s short stories. Manto once defended the theme in his writing with these words – “If you cannot bear these stories, then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society which itself is naked.” After a quick hey-ho to Herman Melville in the 19th century, a ping on the phone pulls me back to the present. It is India’s favourite cartoonist R K Laxman’s The Best of Laxman, one of the many freebies that are appearing in our realms to help make the lock-in bearable. Another play, this time British dramatist Willy Russell’s One For the Road drives home the point that tragedy when cloaked with comedy hits hard. As I ponder over my next day’s read, a thin spine catches my eye. The cover is a sage green that time has muted down – Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. A gift, it has sat in the shadows of the tomes around it for half a decade. Yeats, in his introduction, says Tagore’s ‘songs brought out a world that he had always dreamed of.‘ As I read on, I echo this feeling. My tenth date on the tenth day is with British-Zimbabwean writer Doris Lessing. The author’s ability to spot stories in the ordinary through her observation of the vagaries of human behaviour strikes a chord. It’s the kind of writer I hope to become. Ten days of reading a different author each day has added a beat to the hum and drum.

 

 

Next, I pick a modern romance Edan Lepucki’s If You’re Not Yet Like Me. A far cry from the teeth-decaying sweet romances I grew up, the writer’s choice of backing a flawed protagonist makes it relatable. I follow it up with Punch Goes Abroad, a compilation of travel articles that initially featured in Punch Magazine. It is speed dating at its best as Miles Kington, Julian Barnes, and a few others do their best to woo me. Day 13 introduces me to a new name, Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose stories lead me to a world I know nothing of and hold me trapped there much after the stories end. From new introductions to the always-and-forever, Ernest Hemingway with A Big two Hearted River and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The next day brings home The Rich Boy by F. Scott Fitsgerald, which carries some shades of Gatsby.

 

 

A tweet alerts me to a new author, Norwegian Joe Fosse. His novella And Then My Dog Will Come Back To Me starts with an innocuous event but soon takes hairpin bend twists and turns. Or does it? The doubts persist though the tale ends. The next few days are what become, by chance not decision, my classic phase. I read Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain,  William Faulkner and Jack London. The only interruption is Bernard Pomerance’s brilliantly conceived play The Elephant Man, which is read out loud over a Zoom call with a group of fellow readers and followed by a spirited discussion.  The classic phase is followed by some contemporary geniuses Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes and another eternal love Haruki Murakami’s The Folklore of Our Times.

 

 

A week away from a month of reading a different author every day, and it occurs to me that I have neglected contemporary Indian writers. V S Naipaul‘s Indian origin gets him a foot through the door and his short stories in A Flag on the Island paint a vivid picture of life on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. From the Caribbean, it is a quick flight back home to Mumbai. Rohinton Mistry’s Firozsha Baug acquaints the reader with life in the Parsi colonies that dot the city. Another Indian writer on my list is Satyajit Ray with his short story Bonku Babu’s Friend. True to his style, the writer uses a straightforward narrative to hold a mirror before us that compels us to examine ourselves, uncomfortable as it may be. Another neglected group on my list is women writers, and with month-end looming close, I turn to two celebrated women. Virginia Woolf’s short stories The Mark on the Wall and Kew Gardens are in her characteristic stream of consciousness style. Her ability to stretch and collapse moments is astounding. She is followed by Alice Munro with The Bear That Came Over The Mountain which redefines love when seen through a more pragmatic lens. It’s day 30, and the recommendation has come from the great Murakami, a name that made an appearance in his short story Kenzaburo Oe. His Aghwee, the Sky Monster delves into the theme of mental disorder with a subtlety that is befitting of the point of view character. I am enamoured, and I see the merit in exploring a longer relationship with Oe.

 

 

What next? Perhaps, a new reading goal. For now though I am revelling in the many moments that these stories created in the last thirty days. If it weren’t for them, the days would have connected together in a flatline, and that is no way to live.

Illustrations Himali Kothari


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Read Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer

While he was still a student, Swami Vivekananda had already read Herbert Spencer, John Richard Green, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Aristotle, Wordsworth, David Hume, Percy Shelley, and Charles Dickens among other writers. Dr. Ambedkar, during his lifetime, had collected more than 50,000 books at Rajgruha (his house in Mumbai). On being asked to furnish a list of books that influenced him, Leo Tolstoy sent an age-wise list of 50 books that influenced him through his lifetime. We can make a list of the most original thinkers and leaders in the world and barring a few exceptions, we will invariably find that they were and are the most avid readers you can find. They never shied away from reading ideas that challenged their own perceptions of the world. Now, in a world where our habits are defined by the ways of the internet, thanks to the algorithms that track our preferences and reading history, we keep reading what we keep reading. As a result, forget the ideas we do not like, we don’t even understand the ideas we actually like.

 

Reading is a different space in the mind, a battleground where ideas meet. Some ideas mingle and sign treaties while some meet only to fight and decimate each other. Now, if this open field keeps hosting only one particular kind of idea and never lets other ideas anywhere near the battleground, the mind becomes a complacent place. It forgets how treaties are signed, it forgets how battles are fought and won, and most importantly, it forgets how a battle of ideas is lost. It is therefore, the duty of a reader to keep the battlefield alive and bloody, so that the ideas may sweat more during peace and bleed less during the war. If that duty is not taken care of, a stronger idea keeps coming at you until you are annihilated and you surrender without putting up a fight! It is at this point that you make a choice between – getting co-opted by the stronger force or remain exiled till you prepare for the battle anew. Sadly, most of us get co-opted.

 

Apart from their personal struggle, a lot many change-makers of this planet took their own sweet time to understand their own self better. They read ideas from different corners of human development. They examined them first hand and reached their own conclusions. They sieved out things and kept what they needed. They strengthened their ideas by putting them to rigorous tests and only then, came out to talk about them to people. These people had minds of their own. It was impossible to co-opt them. It was impossible to overshadow them. It was impossible to disagree with them in totality. This happened because they were sincere in their efforts and they all found one or more element of truth for themselves. An easy identifier to mark such people is that you will find otherwise completely divergent groups trying to appropriate their ideas after they are gone. That happens because of several reasons. One, these men and women were not afraid of revising their ideas from time to time, so one group cites from one phase of their lives and another from another without understanding the context. Two, these people have already done the hard work of reading and filtering of ideas, so the appropriating groups have it easier if they just accept them as their Heroes and follow whatever they like in their repertoire.

 

Now, things would have been still better if people just did not want to read about ideas they disagreed with. However, we have people who do not even want to read ideas they like, ideas that appeal to them, and people they adore otherwise. This is partly their own laziness and partly peer pressure.

 

“Ambedkar was a great man”
“…yes, Ambedkar was a great man”
“why?”
“because he drafted the constitution?”
“ok, so have you read the constitution?”
“What? No! How can one read the constitution?”

 

This population bifurcates at the point ‘action’ comes into the picture. Case in point, a protest march in the name of Ambedkar. One set will stay at home and the other will join the march with all their zeal. The ones staying at home are more or less a harmless set. The one on the street is capable of burning buses and hurling stones at trains in peer pressure or on the command of the leader who has studied Ambedkar but knows what to conceal and what to reveal to effect a nihilistic vandalism. That’s why I wonder why people are so surprised to find protestors in Anti-CAA and Pro-CAA marches not knowing what CAA even stands for. The lot that doesn’t want to read but is eager to burn is the injurious one and the growth of such set should be a cause for worry for all of us. People who have read 2 more books or a few more wiki links than these gullible people are able to preach to them and drive them according to their own fancy. The gullible warrior is too lazy to do his own background work and hence, walks behind people who do it or at least pretend to do it.

 

This is one reason for the widespread reach of fake news. Any influencer puts out a piece of news that might be fake (intended or otherwise) and his followers start sharing the piece without a care for its authenticity or consequences. The followers do not like the idea of reading, they do not like the idea of fact-finding, they do not like the idea of getting corrected – what they like is – does that shared statement help them ascertain their own beliefs? If it does, click retweet. If not, hurl insults. The reading and the contemplative population remain a minority. It is  common to see someone who has not read Ambedkar swearing in his name, someone who has not read Gandhi speak about Satyagraha all the time, someone who doesn’t know Sanskrit talk of protecting it with all their might, someone who has never read Karl Marx dismiss him nonchalantly or fight for him tooth and nail.

 

If you have read this piece till here and if you know you belong to this set, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The systems of our world make it easier for you to fall prey to a bigger fish and get co-opted. We like people who agree with us. Online bookstores suggest you books on the basis of your reading history, streaming channels show you show suggestions based on your viewing history, news aggregators show you news according to what you have clicked before on their site, and friends gift you books according to your taste. It is a difficult arrangement. The battleground of mind is a difficult place by itself and that space should not be up for co-option by anyone anywhere. Start making the change today. Dust your armoury, sharpen your swords, and if you want to bring about a revolution of ideas outside, bring it inside your head first. To begin with, read. Then, come out of your ideological silos and read some more.

 

The Seer Reading List for 2020

1 Book A Week For 2020 – The Seer Reading List

Congratulations to the readers who were able to meet their target of 1 book a week for the year 2019. Now, if you haven’t been able to do that or if you are planning to do it again in the year 2020, The Seer has come up with a list of books, one for each week, to help you select your books without breaking your heads. These books have figured in our list because we believe that they have something excellent to offer to their readers. This list is also a product of a personal need for the team as we have seen it first hand that the resolution to read 52 or 53 books a year hits a dead end when we have to handpick each book ourselves. A friend you can trust on this road, is a great help and that is what we have tried to do – be of some help in your reading journey for the year 2020. Please let us know of your To-Be-Read lists in the comment section so that we can add more books to our personal lists.

We have to thank one of the most prolific members of our team – Aakanksha Singh, who helped us in building up this list. If you wish to read her writings, please follow the link – https://theseer.in/author/aakankshatheseer/ . You may also write to us at contact@theseer.in for any feedback, suggestions, new ideas. We wish you and your family a literature laden 2020.

Happy New Year

53 Books To Read in 2020

Week 1

Sprout is a hen who dreamed she could fly and become free. You should read The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly for that strong dose of inspiration to help you sail across your new year blues.

Buy it here.

Week 2

The winters are creeping up! Cosy up in the cold with a cup of coffee and a heartwarming read, Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawguchi.

Buy it here.

Week 3

Swami Vivekananda built a bridge between India’s past and its future. While he adored the India of the past, he also understood its limitations and took a modern approach to solve the country’s problems. Mr. Hindol Sengupta explores The Modern Monk in his book and brings to you many facets of his life that are not commonly known.

Buy it here.

Week 4

It’s the Republic Day week and who better to read than the maker of the Indian constitution – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Federaton Versus Freedom is a lecture he delivered on 29th January, 1939 at the annual function of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics held in the Gohale Hall, Poona (now Pune) where he talks about federal form of government and India’s future with it.

Buy it here.

Week 5

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on 27th January. To commemorate and to remember, read Elie Wiesel’s Night where he narrates his own experiences in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany.

Buy it here.

Week 6

4th February 2020 marks Agha Shahid Ali’s 71st birth anniversary. He wrote about his home, Kashmir, extensively to capture the state’s suffering. We recommend you read his haunting poetry book, A Country Without a Post Office.

Read the Seer’s review of the book here. Buy it here.

Week 7

Even though we are perhaps living through some of the most productive and peaceful decades of recent human history, the variables of internet, social media, insta-gratification, post modern constructs, absence of purpose, and extreme politics have rendered our lives chaotic. It is from this chaos that the author tries to get us out through his 12 Rules For Life. Each chapter comes with a lot of research and examples from Dr. Peterson’s practice in clinical psychology.

Read the Seer’s review of the book here. Buy it here.

Week 8

Japan and its love for cats is absolutely adorable. The country celebrates National Cat Day on 22nd Feb each year. The Seer recommends reading the heartwarming The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. Check out The Seer’s other favourite novels featuring cats from Japan.

Buy it here.

Week 9

Read the book before you watch the movie! A movie adaptation of  Little Women released in December 2019! If you haven’t watched the movie yet, WAIT a little bit more. Go on first and read the book. We promise it will be delightful! Little Women is a feminist classic that transports you to beautiful homes and a very British countryside.

Buy it here.

Week 10

 If you have read Maus by Art Spiegelman and connected with the graphic novel’s use of anthropomorphism, then Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad would make for a thoughtful read too. The graphic novel narrates the story of the titular Munnu amidst the political and military strife in Kashmir. The Kashmiris in this story are depicted as deer. 

Buy it here.

Week 11

What can be better than reading a book about books? One such beautiful novel, Paper Moon, by Rehana Munir, was released last year. The story revolves around the protagonist, Fiza, who sets up a bookshop in Bandra, Mumbai.

Read the Seer’s review of the book here. Buy it here.

Week 12

21st March is UN World Poetry Day.  Sumana Roy’s, Out of Syllabus, would make for a perfect companion this week to rekindle your love for poetry and to revel in the joys of myriad relationships that are etched in her poems.

Buy it here.

Week 13

12th March is World Theatre Day. My Story and My Life as an Actress is a translation of the autobiography of Binodini Dasi who started acting at the age of 12 in 19th century Calcutta. It was a time when theatre had not yet got the Bhadralok approval and women actors were chiefly hired from red light districts of the city. Her struggle, rise to fame, and yet the presence of unending sorrow in her life, makes her autobiography a heartfelt read.

Read it here.

Week 14

We recommend the stunning debut, Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi. It is a searing and caustic tale about a mother and daughter relationship. The story is remarkable for its depiction of a mother who defies any prescriptive conventions associated with being a mother. However, that has repercussions on her own daughter who has felt unloved and now has to take care of her mother.

Buy it here.

Week 15

Rilke in his letters has dug deep inside the human mind and heart and has come out with gems of wisdom that come only through experience and the love for your craft. Letters to a Young Poet is a must keep for every bibliophile. Also, since The Seer began with a short review of this book, we harbour a special attachment and recommend it strongly.

Buy it here.

Week 16

Urvashi Bahuguna’s Terrarium is an absolute delight. The winner of 2019 The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, this collection beautifully portrays the small wonders of the natural and everyday world.

Buy it here.

Week 17

Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry by Arundhathi Subramaniam who has edited the book is a collection of about 200 poems of Bhakti poets of the golden Bhakti period of India. Bhakti poems appealed to every stratum of the society because of lucid language employed without compromising on the deeper ethos of India’s tradition in spiritual devotion.

Buy it here.

Week 18

Kamala Das or ‘Madhavi Kutty’ as she is remembered fondly by some, has carved a special place in Indian literature. Grab her book Selected Poems that explores female sexuality, love, and life.

Buy it here.

Week 19

We think once in a while it is alright to judge a book by its cover! Appreciate the beautiful book cover and also the book within with The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali that tells the tale of love found and lost between Roya and Baman in the Iran of pre and post 1979 Revolution.

Buy it here.

Week 20

Memoirs made it big in 2019! The success of Becoming by Michelle Obama set the trend perhaps. If you still haven’t jumped on the memoir bandwagon, read Shanta Gokhale’s memoir, One Foot on the Ground. She was awarded the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Buy it here.

Week 21

Beat the sweltering heat by diving into the cool depths of Ruskin Bond’s Roads to Mussoorie where he pays homage to the lovely town of Mussoorie. Celebrate his birthday on the 19th of May as the lovable author turns 87!

Buy it here.

Week 22

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is celebrated worldwide for his surreal landscapes and story narratives. But we think, one should also read some other lesser known magical realist authors. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is a delicious novel portraying the fabulist through the protagonist’s Tita’s love for cooking.

Buy it here.

Week 23

Having a midyear crisis? Tide over it by reading Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus and learning how to embrace the banal!

Buy it here.

Week 24

June is celebrated as Pride Month the world over! Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sarkar is an imaginative and sensitive YA novel that brings out the reality of homosexuality and bullying in schools.

Buy it here.

Week 25

20th June is UN World Refugee Day.  Reading always enables individuals to see the humane side of any crisis rather than through the prism of hard and cold statistics often bombarded on us. Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis by reading First They Erased our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman, Sophie Ansel.

Buy it here.

Week 26

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations fighting for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. It make for an extremely interesting read and takes you into details of how a war from a foot soldier’s perspective is entirely different from the politician’s view.

Buy it here.

Week 27

Bohemian Rhapsody might have enthralled you with its brilliant portrayal of Freddie Mercury himself thanks to the sheer effort and power of Rami Malek’s acting, but if you are still hungering for more Queen related books, Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar is the book for you! One of the characters, Bugsy, worships the iconic singer and all Queen Fans will relate!

Buy it here.


Week 28

Read engaging stories in verse, Circus Folks and Village Freaks by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal. There are 18 twisted tales of very peculiar characters that are sure to keep you reading all night! 

Read the Seer’s review of the book here. Buy it here.

Week 29

Pick up a light, breezy folklore collection, Greatest Folktales from Bihar. Interested in folk literature? Read The Seer’s 12 Folktale Collection Recommendations from India.

Buy it here.

Week 30

Stuck home because of constant flooding and pouring rain? Shaya Tales by Bulbul Sharma will transport you to a tiny hamlet in the Himalayas and into a tiny cottage in the mountains away from the grey of the monsoon blues!

Buy it here.

Week 31

Compare the Book and the Movie with the touching story of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is the story of August, who has a facial difference and only wants to be treated as a normal kid. The book was made into a movie in 2017. Let us know which is better? 

Buy it here.

Week 32

August is Women in Translation Month! Female writing is slowly getting its due, but translations not so much. Ah, we can change that too one month at a time. 


Khadija Mastur’s portrayal of an inquisitive and questioning protagonist Aliya in her novel, The Women’s Courtyard is laudable, making it one of our favourite books in recent times. It is translated from Urdu by Daisy Rockwell.

Buy it here.

Week 33

India’s Independence Day cannot be viewed insularly, without taking into account the horrifying after-effects of the Partition. One must therefore read and learn more before falling for raging rhetorical arguments. Qurratlain Hyder’s River of Fire or Aag Ka Darya in Urdu is a novel of epic proportions which portrays the seemingly impossible task of showing three countries’ history to the point of the Partition’s chaos.

Buy it here.

Week 34

The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree has been translated into English from Hindi by Rahul Soni. The novel beautifully chronicles the friendship and more between Chacho and Lalna who live in a cluster of houses that share a common roof. The roof becomes their escape. 

Buy it here.

Week 35

Hangwoman by K.R. Meera was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2016. It is written in Malayalam and translated into English by J. Devika. The novel centers on Chetna Grddha Mullick who is appointed as the first female executioner in India. 

Buy it here.

Week 36

Celebrate Teacher’s Day on 5th September by reading the Freedom Writers’ Diary by the Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell to see how an inspiring teacher can bring out change in students by encouraging them to write.

Buy it here.

Week 37

6th September is the day that 2 years ago in 2018, the SC ruled on Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality. Read Amruta Patil’s graphic novel, Kari, to experience both Bombay and Kari and Ruth’s relationship.

Buy it here.

Week 38

13th September is Roald Dahl’s birthday. It is called the Roald Dahl Day. We would suggest to read Matilda. Matilda has a great understanding teacher who also appreciates her love for books!

Buy it here.

Week 39

The last week of September in the literary world is called Banned Books Week. Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman or Madhorubhagan in Malayalam was banned after a petition was filed against it alleging that the novel hurt sentiments of a community and of women. The Madras High Court dismissed the petition in 2016.

Buy it here.

Week 40

Immigration is usually in the news for all the wrong reasons. Immigrants become an easy “other” for politicians to blame for the woes of a country that they refuse to solve. Nonetheless, in this globalised world, immigrants form an essential part of many countries’ cultures. Read a beautiful diaspora work, Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. The novel traverses three countries, Nigeria, the UK and the US.

Buy it here.

Week 41

Agatha Christie published her first Hercule Poirot novel, Mysterious Affairs at the Styles in October 1920! Celebrate a hundred years by revisiting this classic whodunnit!

Buy it here.

Week 42

16th October is World Food Day, celebrated by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN. Revel in an epicurean delight and read Andaleeb Wajid’s More than Just Biryani. Perhaps the novel will lead you to introspect your lovely memories with food and family too!

Buy it here.


Week 43

Enjoy the growing chill and the changing seasons by indulging in a children’s classic, Heidi. The story is perfect when you want to vicariously visit the mountains while being tucked inside the depths of a warm quilt.

Read the Seer’s review of the book here. Buy it here.

Week 44

October is also LGBTQ History Month in the US and Canada (while in the UK it is celebrated in February). So why not also think about LGBTQ history from an Indian perspective this month? We recommend reading Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai which analyses at length the literary representations of same-sex love in Indian writing since ancient times. 

Buy it here.


Week 45

On 2nd November 2019, the JCB Prize for literature for 2019 went to Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must, as it is a powerful, emotive read about Shalini, based in Bangalore, who sets out to uncover her connections to Kashmir by finding out about how a Kasmiri salesman, Bashir Ahmed, is linked with her mother. So, immerse in this previous year’s winner while you wait for the 2020 JCB winner to be announced.

Buy it here.

Week 46

26th Session of Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC will take place in Glasgow in 2020 from 9th to 19th November: Climate change is undeniably a major threat to our very existence on Planet Earth. We are already seeing its effects as is evident by the freak weather incidents and the climatic changes all across India. Yet it is also the one threat that we all conveniently ignore. In one of his few non fiction works, The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh takes this threat and hauntingly makes it real by looking at the consequences that will befall us because of our present ‘derangement’ in denying this climate crisis.

Buy it here.

Week 47

India’s Most Fearless by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh chronicles 14 stories of modern military Heroes of India. This book is a great addition to the military literature of India and makes for a gripping read.

Buy it here.

Week 48

The Seer celebrated 100 years of Amrita Pritam last year in 2019.  Celebrate the love between her and her longtime companion, Imroz through the touching collection of letters collated in In The Time Of Love And Longing by Amrita Pritam And Imroz. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 49

December is the Read a New Book Month. The idea behind this is to encourage readers to read something new they wouldn’t otherwise.

If you haven’t already started reading more LGBTQ stories, we suggest you pick up the coming of age, The Carpet Weaver, by Nemat Sadat. It portrays a gay relationship amidst the political upheavals in Afghanistan.

Buy it here.

Week 50

As the year draws towards the end, if you are wondering about your exaggerated optimism while making your 2020 resolution list, stop and pick up Manu Joseph’s Illicit Happiness of Other People to drown yourself in some dark humour.

Buy it here.

Week 51

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie is an absolute gem for all ages. Though it is stylised as a children’s fable with the protagonist, Haroun, going on several adventures to the places in the novel’s universe, Haroun and the Sea of Stories also comments on the power of stories and criticises the clampdown on freedom of expression and its censoring. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 52

While you fortify your resolution to join the swankiest of the gyms in your neighbourhood, don’t forget the food part of it. The Indian Pantry: The Very Best of Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi takes you on an amusing journey of the Indian pantry and leaves you much more informed about the food you eat.

Buy it here.

Week 53

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to her previously acclaimed novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel takes place 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and has three prominent narratives: of Aunt Lydia and two women who are the first generations of the dystopian country, Gilead.

Buy it here.

John D. Batten illustrator

12 Folktale Collections to Read from India!


For thousands of years, folktales have been a medium for communities to narrate their stories and preserve their wisdom, their culture, values and traditions. We must have all heard of random stories and folk tales from our elders. If not heard, then definitely read tales and fables popular in India.

A.K. Ramanujan’s Folktales of India was a definitive collection of 110 folktales collected from all corners of the country and translated from different languages by an Indian. But if you are the one who wants to explore more folktales, the list below will come in handy!

The Seer presents 12 folktale collections to read from all across India. These collections will take you travelling from deep seas to the jungles of Central India and from the majestic peaks of the Himalayas to the dense forests of the North East.

 

Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar by Nalin Verma

Published this year in October, this collection of stories brings together intriguing animal and human characters that narrate the age old wisdom of the villages of Bihar. Buy the book here.

 

Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.
Romana Klee | Seven blind men and an elephant is a parable found in Indian traditions. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars.

 


Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills
compiled and edited by Madhavi Ravindranath

Folk Tales from the Nilgiri Hills came about as a result of All India Radio’s Ooty’s program head, Madhavi Ravindranath’s labour of love to collect folktales from the various tribes residing in the Nilgiris. They were first recorded and then broadcast as part of the radio show, ‘Malai Makkal Maanaadu’ (Gathering of the hill people). The book was published by Tamil Nadu’s Hill Area Development Programme.

 


First there was Woman and Other Stories: Folktales of the Dungri Garasiya Bhils
retold by Marija Sres

Dungri Garasiya Bhils live in northern Gujarat, southern Rajasthan and some parts of Madhya Pradesh as well. Marija Sres (originally from former Yugoslavia) came to India in 1974 and studied Gujarati in Ahmedabad, eventually completing her B.A. in Gujarati. This collection, published by Zubaan Books, presents folktales she has collected and translated over the years. The titular creation myth is a unique narrative of how the woman was created first by Kudrat (or Nature). The other stories also similarly capture the values and customs intrinsic to the Dungri Garasiya way of life. Get your copy here!

 


Around the Hearth: Khasi Legends by Kynpham Sing Nongkyrih

For centuries, Khasis have preserved their language by telling stories and passing them onto their younger generations. In this book, Nongkyrih brings alive the legends and tales that are part of the ethos of Khasi contemporary life till today. Buy the copy here.

 


Tales from the Kathasaritsagara
by Somdeva, translated from Sanskrit by Arshia Sattar

Originally written in Sanskrit, Kathasaritsagara was compiled by the Kashmiri Shaivite Brahmin, Somdev, in about 1070 C.E. Kathasaritsagara means “Ocean of a Stream of Stories.” Katha means stories, sarit means river or stream and sagara means the ocean. The frame story of King Naravahanadatta forms the outer narrative while including several stories within stories much like The Arabian Nights and Panchtantra. Yet, unlike many ancient fables, these stories do not preach moral lessons. Rather they portray lives lived through pleasure and experience.

Get your copy here or read an online version of a different translation here.

A literary tidbit: This style of using a frame narrative is often used by contemporary fabulists and writers too! For example, Salman Rushdie in his book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, not only pays tribute to the title of Kathasaritsagara but also creates a whole new magical realist world that gives insights into the creation of stories and their purpose!

 


Konkani Folktales
retold by Olivinho J.E. Gomes

Konkani is one of the languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In 1992, with the 71st Amendment, three languages, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were included. Published by National Book Trust of India, Konkani Folktales is a rollicking collection of stories that depicts peculiar habits of Konkani speaking communities from their food to clothing to dances. Buy your copy here.

 


Speaking to an Elephant and Other Tales from the Kadars
by Manish Chandi

This is a must read for its interweaving of gorgeous illustrations and line drawings with the forest stories of the Kadars. Kadars are an indigenous people living in different parts of South India namely Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The stories in this collection narrate their utmost reverence to the forests they call home and emphasize their belief systems that revolve around forests and the spirits that reside therein. Grab this beautiful copy here.

 

The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).
Ms_Sarah_Welch | The woman and the mongoose Panchatantra fable is engraved in many historic Hindu temples such as at the 8th-century Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal (the middle panel).

 


Where Gods Dwell
by Kusum Budhwar

From forests of the south, let us now move to the valleys of Kumaon. Kusum Budhwar brings together the folk stories that dwell in the mountains of Kumaon and Garwhal regions. Where Gods Dwell is divided into different sections based on varied themes. One unique aspect of this book is its inclusion of folk songs and romantic ballads of the region. This puts the spotlight on the role of folk music and songs in preserving our values and culture. Each story is also accompanied by detailed explanations given by the author. This helps us readers to know more about the context of each story. Buy your copy here.

 


A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold
by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton

Beginning with an insightful introduction to the Lotha Naga way of life, this is a collection of 30 folk tales that tell myriad folk tales from those that explain certain phenomena occurring around us to those that explain the origins of their world. All in all these stories mirror a society and its beliefs. This book is published by Adivaani, a publication house that publishes indigenous literature from all different parts of the country. Know more about their books here.

Get your copy of A Girl Swallowed by a Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold here.

Read an extract of the book here.

 

page1-695px-Puran_Bhagat_-_Qadir_Yar.pdf
Puran Bhagat is a Punjabi folktale by Qadir Yar.


Shehzadi Mircha: Folktales from the Punjab (Ruskin Bond Selection)
by Flora Annie Steel

This is an old colonial collection of folktales reminiscent of bygone North Indian cultures and customs, particularly Punjab. Beautifully illustrated by John Lockwood Kipling, the stories were collected in the 19th century by Flora Annie Steel. Read a charming extract here and then if you feel like it, buy it here.

 


Folktales of Odisha
collected by Mahendra Kumar Mishra

Published by National Book Trust of India, Folktales of Odisha comprises of 51 stories that form an integral part of the numerous communities of Odisha be it rural or coastal. All the stories impart useful lessons and morals on conducting one’s behavior and are a celebration of the state’s diversity and cultures. Get your copy here.

 

Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey
w:Warwick Goble [Public domain] | Illustration in Folk-tales of Bengal by w:Lal Behari Dey
 


One Hundred and One Folktales from India
by Eunice De Souza

Curiously titled after Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights, this folktale collection is vast and varied and like A.K. Ramanujan’s work, has stories from all across the country. Minimally illustrated, this book forms a comprehensive and magical introduction to the world of folklore. Buy your copy here.

 

Find More Online:

But what if you are not in the mood to spend now, what with the expensive festive season ending or you do not want to unnecessarily add to your ever increasing TBR pile? Yet you are still interested to know more folklore?

Worry not! Because there are several resources online where you could read these short folk tales any time and entertain yourself and along the way, learn a thing or two!

Talking Myths is an online repository of folktales from different states of India. Easy to navigate and the stories are published in big, readable fonts. You can navigate the page through the different categories of folktales or through location too! What’s more is that if you have a folk tale you want to contribute, you can do so by clicking here.

Storyweaver is a wonderful open source platform for stories and is created by Pratham Books. Primarily for children, this site hosts stories in different languages. A fun, interactive way to read and create stories of all kinds!

If you cannot get your hands on his other works, Ramanujan’s , A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, is available online here. This collection boasts of beautiful Kannada folktales which were collected as a result of Ramanujan’s tireless work over a period of about 30 years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

 

References:

Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel-Amruta Patil

Junoon was established in Mumbai in 2012 by Sameera Iyengar and Sanjna Kapoor in order to celebrate the arts, its diversity, and to bring to the fore the artists associated with various artistic projects and engagements. 

 

While Junoon conducts a plethora of activities under its umbrella, it also strives toward greater engagement with the people. Mumbai Local is one such initiative that brings together artists and scientists three times a month at three different venues to deliver informative talks about their work. Their sessions are also video recorded and uploaded online. So in case you miss them, you are sure to catch them online. 

 

Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel by Amruta Patil was one of the sessions for November conducted on 10th November, 2019 at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai as part of the Mumbai Local series, initiated by Junoon. Amruta Patil’s talk centred on themes underlining her works, her graphic novels and speaking about her latest work, Aranyaka, which was created in collaboration with Devdutt Pattanaik. 

 

Her presentation was divided into Six Layers as she called them. Through each layer, she explored personal and thematic aspects of her work which provided greater insights into what went into the making of her graphic novels. It was quite eye opening for fans of her work and would have definitely compelled others in the audience to read her works. 

 

Before going into the details of the talk, let us look at her books to get a better sense of her work. Her first graphic novel was Kari which chronicled the life of the eponymous heroine and delved into her relationship with Ruth and her city, Mumbai; though the city is not referred by its name.

 

After this initial book, she turned her attention to mythology and retelling stories. Her second graphic novel, Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, is a beautiful retelling of the Mahabharata. Her third book, Sauptik: Blood and Flowers is a sequel to Adi Parva. On the other hand, her latest book, Aranyaka, is a tribute to the Indian forests and Indian rishikas or female hermits. 

 

She began her talk with her first layer, describing the form of graphic novels and calling the medium itself queer. Her definition of this medium is an attempt to address the debate between highbrow and lowbrow literature. Graphic novels are forever stuck somewhere in between the categories of comics and literature. Hence, making the medium itself queer.

 

Her second layer spoke of the use of “Outlier Sutradhars” in her books as a means to “fill the missing gaps in who gets to tell the story.” In the first graphic novel, Kari, the protagonist, Kari, is an outlier in all senses because she is dreamy, hare brained and a lesbian. Her other graphic novels similarly engage with outlier narrators or sutradhars. The only difference is that they are mythic outlier narrators. This brings to focus the need to retell stories and interrogate ideas of who narrates the stories. It is also a part of the very contemporary interest among literary and other scholars to engage with different strands of Indian mythology. Her latter works are similarly involved in such a pursuit. Patil explained how her refashioning of stories not only involved choosing alternate sutradhars but also changing visual representations of characters commonly seen in Indian comics. Through this, she challenges the norms of our imagination and visuality that reflect our deeply embedded stereotypes and prejudices as well. For example, the dichotomy of fair and dark skin is ever present in our comics, advertisements, and movies. Dark skin is equated with evil and fair with goodness. She challenged such representation in her work. She gave the example of the representation of Hidimba in her work and how it was markedly different from how Hidimba has usually been portrayed in comics.

 

Her third layer focused on Prakriti or nature, stating the need to be in sync with the world around you and not to look at nature as something apart, as something to be experienced somewhere far away on a trek in the middle of the Himalayas. She detailed how all of her characters are deeply aware of the surrounding they belong to. She gave an example of Kari who documents the city through her senses and is deeply perceptive of it. 

 

Her fourth layer was a beautiful personal anecdote about how Patil has been bereft of any patronage and lineage in the arts and since there are very few people in India creating graphic novels, there is no literary or artistic heritage that you can look up to or pay tribute to. Thus, she went on her own journey in search of masterpieces and works she could connect and relate with. Through her presentation visuals, she showed the audience examples of how varied her artistic inspiration and tributes have been in her works from Frieda Kahlo to Nicholas Roerich to Indian miniature painting. 

 

Layers five and six described how her characters and artworks merged seamlessly with the world or ecosystem around them in her novels. She draws her visuals in such a way that the characters assert their connection with the ecosystem they are intrinsically part of. 

 

She also spoke at length about other artistic techniques in the talk such as the icon of the prominent elongated eyes (much like the ones painted on Buddhist stupas) used frequently in her novels. Through the emphasis on the eyes, she tries to focus on the idea of “darshan” or really “seeing” someone in totality. 

 

The talk was accompanied by stunning visuals from her graphic novels and their rough drafts, peppered with personal anecdotes and tidbits about the effort that goes into the making of these graphic narratives. Layers Upon Layers: The Art of the Graphic Novel was indeed a well layered session, much like a “baklava”1.

 

Footnote:

  1. https://www.bdlmuseum.org/explore/performances.html

References:

 

 

A Trip to the Central Prison

I delighted myself with the joy of spending an entire day in front of the gates of the Central Jail in Bengaluru along with a friend. On retrospection, it sounds like a stupid idea to wait in front of the gates of a prison for whatever reason. However even the stupidest of ideas leave you with an experience worthy of writing. So here is my recollection of how the day unfolded. Continue reading “A Trip to the Central Prison”

Rammohan to Ramakrishna by F. Max Muller – Lest We Forget!

Countries have habits. Our country has a habit of either believing too strongly in somebody or not believing a word of the person. Whether a person is truthful is a thing to be analyzed only much later when someone else who can have a greater command on our belief system appears on the scene. Many nations have a national habit of believing only their own. Other nations have the habit of believing anything that is imported. Few countries can maintain a balance between the two and analyze. Continue reading “Rammohan to Ramakrishna by F. Max Muller – Lest We Forget!”

Grapes of Wrath -‘We take a beatin’ all the time.’

I like to look at a book as though it was formed like the universe (with all the conjectures) and grew and nurtured on the world around it. However, a book is incumbent to live up to this perspective.

Grapes of Wrath is such a book. It starts from the dust bowl Oklahoma and moves to California, tracing the trajectory of becoming and unbecoming of migrants, a family seen from close quarters by the author and the graph it scales. While it is the essential storyline of the book, Grapes of Wrath has been able to capture life as it is. I can conclude the book with this imagery: concentric circles, where, in the outermost circle lies nature, in the middle is the Manself (a word coined by the author to denote man and his desires) and within their lap lie the Joads (the family). Continue reading “Grapes of Wrath -‘We take a beatin’ all the time.’”

Bookstalkists @BlrLitFest2016

BookStalkist attended the Bangalore Literature Festival held at the Royal Orchid Hotel. There were some hard choices to be made as at any point of time 3 sessions were running in parallel in different corners of the venue. We attended a few sessions and here is what we thought about them. 

Having It All: The New Indian GirlSudha Murty in conversation with Chetan Bhagat.

This session was surprisingly good. Mrs. Sudha Murty is a brilliant conversationalist and Mr. Chetan Bhagat had a lot of new things to say. We only hoped he gets to know the real salary structure of Infosys employees and stops overestimating their lifestyle.

Courage and CommitmentAnuja Chauhan in conversation with Margaret Alva.

This was the session that stood out for us for the eloquence of Margaret Alva. She spoke her heart out on issues ranging from women empowerment to male dominance in Indian politics to the current problems of the Congress party. She had a few interesting stories to tell about our ex-Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao as well as our current one – Mr. Narendra Modi.

Askew: A Short Biography of BangaloreNaresh Narasimhan, Prakash Belawadi, Prof. KE Radhakrishna, and V. Ravichandar with Vasanthi Hariprakash.

This was nostalgia celebration fest where participants reminisced the good old days of Bangalore. While a lot of blame was put on the IT industry for the current chaos in the city, it was perhaps forgotten that each of the guests had come to the city from outside in the 1960s. When a point is made that the city was only enough for the population of 1980-82, one wonders what if somebody from the 1940s would say that the city was good enough only for the population of the 1950s. We wonder if there is any end to this debate. In the end, everyone is an immigrant to this planet.

The Theatre Of DemonetizationNarendar Pani, Sanjeev Sanyal, and Shiv Vishvanath with Mihir Sharma.

This was a case of one-upmanship – everyone trying to put the other one down. In this rather superfluous discussion on Demonetization, the moderator came out victorious with his fine sense of humor. So much disconnected were the guests from the topic that Shiv compared the whole initiative to a bad b grade movie(bad sarcasm) and the one speaking for it – Sanjeev, thought that 500 and 1000 ‘dollars’ were banned. This session was nothing more than an exhibition of self obsession.

Literature And The Democratic Imagination: A Discussion of UR Ananthamurthy’s Bara – Prashant Keshavmurthy, Saikat Majumdar, Shankar Ramaswami and Shiv Visvanathan with Chandan Gowda

This was an academic discussion on the story Bara. Written by UR Ananthamurthy in Kannada, the story has been translated to English by Chandan Gowda who played the moderator to the discussion. It started on an insipid note but went on to become one of the most academically intensive sessions. Speakers highlighted different aspects and devices of storytelling in the book. Saikat Majumdar and Shiv Vishwanathan were the highlights of the session. While Saikat stressed on the debate between two schools of philosophy – one which says that you can’t talk about pain unless you have been through it, and the other that says that you standing at a vantage point gives you better clarity of the situation. Shiv has a habit of putting his co-panelists down and he didn’t fail to do so here either. This is unfortunate since he makes very cogent points to put across his ideas. He stressed on why sometimes misreading a book was important and cited examples of students who thought the book was about the JNU controversy.

Mukhamukham: Face To Face With AdoorAmrit Gangar in conversation with Adoor Gopalakrishnan

This was according to me an ill treatment of the guest. Amrit Gangar didn’t show any patience to listen to his answers. We believe that it is anyone’s good fortune to get a chance to speak with such legends. The host interrupted and cut Adoor short on more than one occasion. On the the other hand, the guest was an idol of grace, patience, and experience.  There was a lot to learn from this session. The battle-hardened Adoor had a lot of stories to tell. One of them was how his crew used to spend all the money from one movie on another movie and in effect, never had any money to market the movies.

The Many Roles We PlayAshok Chopra in conversation with Ashish Vidyarthi

We don’t want to write about this session. We admire Ashish as an actor but what we saw in the session was an attempt by an actor turned trainer marketing himself.

Standing On An Apple BoxPremila Paul in conversation with Aishwaryaa Rajnikanth Dhanush

We would lament the fact that most of the questions coming in to Aishwaryaa was about either her husband or her father. This, despite her having released her book – Standing On Apple Box.

What’s Cooking? The Future Of Indian FoodAntoine Lewis, Manu Chandra and Sanjeev Kapoor with Suresh Hinduja

A brilliant session where panelists discussed the millets movement, the myth of authentic recipe, recipe codification et al. Sanjeev Kapoor is a brilliant conversationalist and it was a treat to hear him speak.

Rajiv Gandhi: Chronicle Of A Death ForetoldJosy Joseph in conversation with Neena Gopal

This was one of the most interesting sessions of the festival where Neena Gopal kept the audience hooked with her insights into the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Neena Gopal happens to be the last person to interview Mr. Gandhi and has recently released her book The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on the subject. She argues that the assassination of Mr. Gandhi could have been prevented and there was complicity at every level. This was an intriguing session and people were their attentive best.

Unending Sea Of Stories MS Sriram in conversation with S Diwakar

MS Sriram and S Diwakar, both are on our To Be Read list now. It was an informative session where guest and the host spoke about why they had taken to short stories, the devices used, and how short stories more often than not cater to societal issues.

India: Reclaiming Our Civilization’s HeritageT. V. Mohandas Pai in conversation with Rajiv Malhotra

Mr. Rajiv Malhotra is star wherever he goes. That’s because he knows his subject well and doesn’t care about political correctness. This session stood out because TV Mohandas Pai has his own enticing style of making a conversation. They appeared more as a pair of batsmen on the pitch. Rajiv was taking the strike and Mr. Pai was standing on the non-striker’s end. They had a common enemy, the so called left liberal intelligentsia of the country. Anecdotes of Mr. Rajiv Malhotra being censored and uninvited because of his political incorrectness were amusing on one hand but also worrying on the other.

Anything But Khamosh!Ajay Mago and Bharathi Pradhan in conversation with Shatrughan Sinha

Our first reaction was – Shatrughan Sinha! Why? Then we realized that his biography ‘Anything but Khamosh’ was recently released and the book’s author Bharathi Pradhan was one of the moderators. Although we could not figure out what value Shatrughan Sinha brought to a literature festival, one could not but agree that he is a thorough entertainer. His sense of humor, comic timings, the famous dialogues from his movies, the occasional shayaris and mimicry of yesteryear stars Ajit and Rajkumar kept the evening alive. Mr. Sinha deftly avoided controversial questions regarding his party, politics and Mr. Bachchan.

 

Raat Ke MusafirPiyush Mishra in concert

One of the most awaited events and especially when you get to watch Piyush Mishra perform from the first row, you can barely hide your excitement. He was one of the most interactive guests in the festival and performed his songs one after the other. While the crowd kept chanting Husna, he insisted to wait and kept Husna for the end. He also read a few poems of his. The evening couldn’t have concluded better. The audio issues during his performance did seem to disturb his plane of thoughts but his first loyalty lied with the enthusiastic crowd and hence he picked himself up every time and went ahead with the performance.

 
The festival covered history, politics, geography, biography, popular fiction, erotica, food, travel, evangelism, human rights and a lot more. As much as one might appreciate the range of subjects chosen for discussion, one might also get disappointed with the choice of panelists for those subjects. Except for a few sessions like the ones of Margaret Alva with Anuja Chauhan, Rajiv Malhotra with Mohandas Pai and a couple of other sessions, most of them seemed superfluous. What the fest achieved in variety, it lost in depth. Sometimes the panelists were not impressive and at times the moderators couldn’t get the best out of even veterans like Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

One trouble that probably people faced predominantly was the unavailability of food and drinking water. Although there were food stalls, the prices were not reasonable and the options not very healthy given that there were children too at the venue.  Despite certain inadequacies, the Bangalore Literature Festival was indeed a thorough celebration of literature and literature enthusiasts will always look forward to the event in the coming years as well.

 

A Book, An Odyssey and a Football Novice

 

I am a football illiterate. My vocabulary in football is limited to a mere goal, foul, Pele, Maradona, Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and probably a few club names thanks to the newspapers I read. Not long ago, FC meant Food Court to me and not a Football Club. I have had friends and colleagues who used to swear that football isn’t a matter of life or death but something more than that. I could never comprehend the madness over it. I would laugh them off saying there are better things to fight and die for rather than chasing a ball into a net. In my defense, none of the football clubs had neither a Sachin Tendulkar nor a Rahul Dravid. Yet, when I travelled around Europe, I ended up taking stadium tours in Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabeu and Stamford Bridge because my friends loved football and I loved them. Just a walk through the stadiums listening to its stories was enough for me to be goose bumped. As I walked out of these stadiums, my respect for the game increased by manifolds. That was two years ago and that helped me add more words to my football vocabulary – Copa America, La Liga, UEFA and some more.

Fortunately for me I have this friend who says football is in his blood (sometimes I think there is only football and no blood) and wouldn’t rest until he contaminated mine too with football. So he sent me a birthday gift that read ‘Tiro – A football odyssey from Amazon to Alps’. A wicked move, I must say because he knew it was easier to make me read a book on football than get me to watch a football match. I fell partly for his trick and partly for the cover of the book. It looked beautiful in white and couldn’t let it get dusted in the book shelf.

tiro

Tiro is a collection of articles from goaldentimes.org, a renowned group of football story-tellers winning accolades all over the world. Hence the book has multiple authors and a diverse flavor to it too. The first impressive thing about the book is their ‘Line up’, where the ‘First Half’ of the book features 15 football stories from Latin America, the ‘Second half’ with another 15 stories but this time from Europe and then there is an ‘Extra time’ with 3 articles that has stories flowing across the continents. For an ardent football fan this would give the feel of a football match but for someone like me that was a very important first lesson. If not for Tiro, it would have taken me forever to learn that these regions have a very distinct and distinguished culture and history when it comes to football.

As the match began, the first half was terrific. There was a occasional drag towards the second half probably because some of the stories were a little too longer than the other ones, but the later part of the second half made up for it. And the extra time finished it just perfect. Every article carries an interesting short introduction of what is being covered in them that helps you decide whether or not to read it. However even if I was dozing off exhausted, reading these introductions through half droopy eyes would wake me up and let me finish the article. As for the articles, almost all of them are inspiring and engrossing stories knit very tactically and presented very poetically. I must say the GT boys are brilliant story tellers. I had to sneak out in between conversations with friends, during office hours and even during sleep to finish reading the stories that I had started. I wasn’t expecting to be hooked on to the book, but I was. And at times to YouTube too replaying few shots especially the ‘hand of god’ goal.

(I have replayed it so many times now and even different versions of it. Did he or did he not? This has been driving me mad. How do you people live with such suspense stories?)

The book starts from Brazil tracing down in detail the history of various footballing nations, their greatest victories, their biggest humiliations and their mighty come backs. It sings the glory of unsung heroes and paints the struggles of their lives. It makes you fall in love with those fallen stars and tells you why some deserved more than being forgiven. The book tells you how football has been an instrument of change bringing about a revolution in the political landscape of many of these countries and how footballers were not only sports icons but also champions of nationalist movements. I realize how ignorant I was to think of football as just a game of a ball and net with few mad men running around it while this ‘beautiful game’ has been the beacon of hope for multitudes across continents over generations. The stories of the lives that were saved by the game, the lives that were spared by the game, lives that were sacrificed for the game tells me why this not just a matter of life and death but a lot more than that. While the world is well aware of the wars on a football ground, Tiro also tells the world about the games fought on war fields with a knife hanging over their heads. And that is why Tiro is going be a very significant piece of sports literature not only for football aficionados but also for history enthusiasts across the globe.

Tiro has been a thoroughly enlightening, enriching and entertaining experience for me. I have just one thing to complain about at the cost of being called a lazy reader. But hey, how would you feel if you must switch television channels while watching a nail-biting match. That is how inconvenient it is to flip over the pages to read the chapter notes. It would have been wonderful had the chapter notes been added at the end of the page, especially for people who like me do need the help of chapter notes. I am still a football illiterate and will continue to blink when you say a quarter back or a 4-4-2 formation. Nevertheless, I have tremendously improved on my football vocabulary. I know what derby means. I know Alfred Di Stefano, Ruth Malosso and Barbosa. I know what a bicycle kick is. I even know some football chants. Finally, I know what Srinwantu Dey means when he says “Football is a palette of life which reflects all the emotions – joy, sorrow, grit, helplessness and determination”. And for that I am immensely grateful to my dear friend Aritra Biswas and the GT boys.