The Reading Room of Satabdi Mishra (Co-Owner, Walking BookFairs), Bhubaneswar, India

This is a special picture from a trip Satabdi and her team made to Mayurbhanj district in Odisha where they started the first Walking BookFairs Library in Bisoi Government School for children who were working as child labourers. These 116 children have been rescued and rehabilitated by the district administration. They now go to school and all of them love stories. Walking BookFairs helped start a small library for them with a box full of story books and picture books (some of them cannot read yet).

Satabdi Mishra is a mother of a four and half year old. She co-owns and runs independent book shack Walking BookFairs in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India, which mainly involves driving a van-full of books – the Walking BookFairs traveling bookshop – through villages and small towns of Odisha. She wants to spread the joy of reading all around and strongly believes that books are for everyone, including the poorest farmer in the remotest village.
This bibliophile loves good books, good cinema and good tea.

I invited myself into her Reading Room to hear all about the pages she loves, abhors, goes back to over and over again.

You’re currently reading

An Evening in Calcutta – Stories by KA Abbas (Harper Collins India)

Baluta by Daya Pawar, translated by Jerry Pinto (Speaking Tiger Books)

Last book you bought

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.

I have to confess that it’s been some time since I have bought a book, one of the perks of running a bookshop!

A Book you left unfinished (why, when)

Oh! I do that a lot. Only to re-visit them later.

A Book you’ve wanted to read for years, but haven’t yet

The Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali.

Three books everyone should read

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

The Outsider by Albert Camus.

1984 by George Orwell.

We live in strange times. Anybody who has access to books, should absolutely read these three books!

An author you wouldn’t be caught dead reading

I am someone who would read anything in print. But even with all my love for adventures I am yet to read Chetan Bhagat.

A Book that sums up childhood reading years

Oh! Those glorious years! Alistair McLean, O.Henry, PG Wodehouse and some Sidney Sheldon too!

Book(s) you’ve read more than once & would love to read again

‘100 years of Solitude’ is a book I keep reading again and again.

‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago.

‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’ by Pablo Neruda.

Favorite author(s)

Gabriel García Márquez, Jose Saramago, Fakir Mohan Senapati, Manto, Nagarjun, Pablo Neruda, Haruki Murakami

A fictional character from a book that you most identify with and why

One of the most brilliant characters in a book is Meursault from The Outsider.

When Meursault finally realizes that people’s lives have no grand meaning or importance, and that their actions, their comings and goings, have no effect on the world. This realization is the culmination of all the events of the novel.

The most prized book in your library

A copy of ‘Siddhartha’ from a very special person in my life. This book and the person who gifted me this book have been my anchor.

Your favorite reading spot

The garden at Walking BookFairs. I spend most of my days reading by the lily pond with butterflies, spiders, squirrels and sparrows for company. But I will read anywhere.

If you’d like to participate in this or other Q&A series, holler on Twitter or leave a message below and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!


An (A)fternoon of Nasal Orgy

Don’t get me wrong. This is not going to be an exposition on an ancient art of instant gratification. I am instead allowing you to peek into the world of a crazed bibliophile.

This ‘attachment’ that I speak of can sometimes transcend the mere appreciation of words and find the subject allowing her sense of smell to explore what lies not between the lines but between the pages.

This is what happened on a muggy afternoon…

The discoveries made were startling, sometimes unexplained and only rarely predictable.


Don’t you think its only fair that Pearl S. Buck’s ‘The Good Earth’ smelt of rice.

Or that Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul’ reminded the smeller (if there ever was one) of a land far away, never visited.

But would anyone think that ‘Dog Years’, that chaotically poetic Gunter Grass work that tells of a world gone mad, could smell pleasant.


Or that the two part autobiography of a dictator (Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’) could remind one’s nose of fresh flowers on a spring morning.

(and the irony of it all that I should speak of Grass and Hitler almost in the same breath).

What do you think Franz Kafka’s ‘Diaries’ smelt of? Existential angst? Perhaps that is the best and the only way to describe it.

Diaries of Franz Kafka

And how about Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’? Well, it smelt sweet, something the author could not have imagined, much less intended.

And what happened when one tried to capture the scent of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’?

Nothing. No fresh flowers, wet earth or English summer. In fact, there was no scent at all!

It was most unusual that the smell from the pages of Hermann Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’ took one back to the library in a convent not visited for over fifteen years.

Equally interesting was the discovery that Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’, the unabashed ode to ‘individualism’, actually smells of ashes.

Finally (deciding to leave many others in the wake), it was time to discover what senses Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ would awaken. It most certainly did not remind one of the scent of bitter almonds. Instead, it was an indescribable smell.

One could not relate it to anything…only fitting, for perhaps it smelt of that indescribable feeling…love.

That an afternoon could have been spent thus is proof of the fact that attachment of this nature is only half explored through the eyes and the mind.

There are countless associations waiting to be made by calling into play other senses…

…but it is only possible if you’re inclined enough to disregard modes of ‘normal’ behaviour.

P.S.: In case you haven’t noticed, I’m participating in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Read all about it here: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

We begin today with the letter ‘A’ for Afternoon. Stay tuned, in April and beyond.


Scribbler On The Book

I often wonder if it is quite alright to leave my mark on the pages of books written by others. Would it be so terrible to dot the margins of a beloved book with something that says I was there once? And not for the benefit of others, but just because a passage, a word, a thought moved me enough to want to carry it around forever. People have been known to copy interesting passages in their diaries. But extracting the words from where they belong may alter the true meaning and intent of the man/woman who put them at a particular spot for a reason.

A friend once said one could only get away with being a scribbler if one were Maxim Gorky (a big scribbler I’m told). I may not fit the bill according to those standards, but it is an exciting prospect indeed to imagine going back to a book devoured ages ago, only to find I left a little of myself in it.

For reading is hardly about the book or the author alone. The very act of picking out a book to read (from several others) marks the first active choice made as a reader. While the author writes with his/her belief systems and prejudices intact, you will react with your set of the same in place.

Having made that first choice of picking out a book, is it not just an extension of that choice to scribble away in it (only if it’s a personal copy of course) if your heart so desires (even if your head may scream the word ‘sacrilege’ often enough)?

Who says scribbling is only meant for textbooks. When there are other (better) books out there that you love enough to agree to spend your life with, scribbling on them must only be considered an extension of your love.

So perhaps it is quite alright to dot the margins of Marquez, Tolstoy, Proust, Woolf, Wodehouse and others. And perhaps a day will come when a closet-scribbler will be able to stand in front of a crowd and elicit thunderous applause when she states with pride: “I am a scribbler on the book” (among other things).


Intimacy between covers

Each time we close a book, having read it cover-to-cover, there is a sense of departing from a world entered some time ago. The real or imagined histories that were companions for hours are now allowed to drift away, making way for new relationships to be formed. Sometimes familiar settings from the last inhabited world linger, till new associations take their place or merely fail to displace them.

Excitement always accompanies the act of choosing what world to enter next…war, crime, satire, or the space without boundaries? The first few pages often enthrall, welcoming us to step in further. We may allow ourselves to be led through the pathways, ever watchful to not miss the details. There is sometimes a taste of the familiar or the utterly strange to take a delight at, while standing guard against the unpalatable.

While God is in the details, authors are imprinted on every written word. Journeys through pages are often incomplete without imagining the act of their being written…the whys and wherefores and everything in between. Gods of the written world may hardly wish it but as readers we wonder if their creations can ever be greater than them. Can pages bundled together, carrying many a world in their folds, become larger than the lives of the pen-wielding folk and their practiced art? How are we to marvel at (or deride) a world by ignoring the creator? Even an atheist’s non-believer status stems from ‘not believing’ rather than ‘ignoring’.

Whether it is newer creations in ink or our journey across worlds created by those long gone, these myriad relationships shall keep us alternating between bidding goodbye and knocking on the next door.

Amen to that and always having a pair of good eyes (or appropriate spectacles).