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!


What they don’t teach you in (V)alue-Education

Under normal circumstances I abide by the doctrine of non-violence. But sometimes things or people just drive me over the edge. It never results in homicide but in the darkest chambers of my mind it plays out with utmost clarity.

I always liked the Guns and Roses song, “I used to love her, but I had to kill her”. It speaks to the side of me that might like to swing a baseball bat or two (its easier swingin’ than a cricket bat) at certain people at uncertain times. Mostly it’s those who hyperventilate. Nothing gets easier or better with panic for company but some dimwits just don’t get it. So they will do the crazy dance over your head and all you want to do is pick the best gloves in the house and box their head off.

The other category I can’t stand are micro-managers who don’t leave that skill at work. I mean, a trip is more fun if you know enough to come out of it alive. Leave the rest to chance and adventure so that you can live to tell the tale of how you got lost or how the trek to the top of the mountain left you staring not at the panoramic view of the city but a well guarded military base.

Don’t even get me started on how many maniacs on the road have made me want to play my version of the Monster Truck Madness (Yes video games are integral to your personality development. Don’t listen to Mommy).

However, more difficult than all of this is experiencing fury within and maintaining a straight face, (or worse still) a smile, without. Giving someone a piece of your mind might help you reach a bearable lightness of being. But it doesn’t last long enough to save you from the next jolt from the blue.

Therefore it helps to cultivate the fine art of making a Kill Bill rip-off in your head, while somebody is blabbering on like there’s no tomorrow. All the imaginary swashbuckling leaves you satiated enough to smile at something that ordinarily would make you want to turn diabolical.

It is almost like reaching a state where you can levitate far from the maddening crowd and pretend that nothing below don’t matter.

Ah the (short-lived) joy of fooling yourself with the I-can-rise-above-and-be-a-bigger-person-by-not-reacting.

There’s no rising above anything really.

The only decision worth making is what will be your weapon of choice in the violent movie in your head the next time someone more than tickles your not so funny bone.


We Don’t Need No (Sex) Education

sex-ed-graphicIn high school, around the turn of the millennium, I attended a very heated debate.

The topic: No sex education please, we’re Indians

I can’t for the life of me remember what people who spoke for the motion had to say. They of course had to prove not just that we don’t need sex education, but that we don’t need it because we’re Indians.

We’re almost a decade past that day but the debate continues.

So what makes sex so un-Indian?

Some people will tell you that talking about sex to teenagers is not in line with our culture and traditions. That is a very valid point in a country where child marriage and female-feticide is apparently more in line with our ‘heritage’.

The debate should have never been about whether we should educate youngsters about sex but about what is the best way to do it. Parents often argue that sex-ed classes make no sense as children then start ‘thinking’ about something they shouldn’t be. Wake up mamas and papas, teenagers are anyway thinking about it, but its about whether you want their information to be from Google or you.

I remember the sex-ed class during my penultimate year in school. Girls and boys were segregated and two women from a local NGO came in to tell us all we wanted and needed to know. I faintly recollect certain diagrams being drawn, a classmate asking about why virginity was tested the way it was when we could very well ‘lose’ it while cycling and much ado about contraceptives. I also recall that when the boys were having their ‘session’ we had to go in and get our bags and there was a lot of giggling and awkwardness around the whole deal. I got back home that day and related the whole thing to my folks, sounding all wise about it…made easier by the fact that they’re doctors and I was talking in medical terms.

As it turns out sex-ed classes aimed at teenagers are not a crash course in Vatsyana’s Kama Sutra. Nobody is telling them that sex is great or how it should be practiced for a pleasure-filled life. The argument runs that teaching teenagers about safe sex means giving them the green signal to ‘experiment’ since it’s all safe. Fears emanating from the idea that sex education leads to promiscuity are not well founded.

Adults can’t continue to be prudes all the way. Teenagers across decades have commonalities. But the differences are just as obvious. It doesn’t work to get all nostalgic and think “we got along just fine without our parents telling us anything about sex”. While controversies around this concept continue, so do the increase in stimuli in a teenager’s world. Gone are the days when the first main encounter with giggle inducing topics was the biology class on human reproduction. Television is passé. The world wide web is the answer to all questions, innocuous and otherwise. And controlling access to the same is that much more difficult.

Teen-age continues to be tricky business. So the question really is, are we going to lay out the right information from a trusted source or have them shoot in the dark till they hurt themselves too bad. And teenagers aren’t the only ones who need educating. Parents and teachers require some lessons in dealing with boys and girls who’re too young to vote but old enough to be opinionated about all else.

We certainly can’t turn condom toting sex educators in a day.

In this country where sex is still a dirty little three letter word, getting past pre-conceived notions of adults is going to take much more than prescribed sex education school textbooks for their children.


A Class Apart

If you must run into someone from your past it better not be your Physics teacher. At least it better not be my Physics teacher. She and I only agreed to disagree. Of course if you’re standing in the Men’s section of a clothing store giving your opinion on something that in all likelihood is going home in the backseat of the car with you and your man, then there is no one better to run into than your middle school English teacher.

Ah those glorious days when all English teachers loved me and there was no one else I’d rather meet at a PTA. Now after all these years I recognized my past perfect teacher in a glance but stepped in front and politely put her name in with that all important question mark in the end. She smiled that smile from years ago and there was all the catching up to do. Not that I’ve invented anything since I last met her but there was the obvious recap. To my “And you’re still at school?” she replied “Once a teacher always a teacher”. (I decided not to break the moment up with examples of teachers-turned-something-else). So after I had said all I could given the lost time of the past years she wished me the best (while I swallowed the “Ma’am are you on Facebook?” question) and I got back to the good trouser-bad trouser game.

Over the years there have been so many types of teachers in my life that I could make a not so subtle version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about my relationship with them. And when I look back there’s no doubt about who I’d rather run into. There’s my first class teacher in boarding school or any of the English teachers over the years or perhaps the man whom I gifted a copy of To Sir with Love (with a special note), not knowing a better way to say thank you.

What’s common among the teachers I miss is that in some way they shaped who I am. Amidst all the confusion of growing up and learning new (and often) un-exciting things, there were those who stirred my mind with ideas that went beyond classrooms and textbooks.

Lectures were always of two types: the ones I ran away from (given half the chance) and those I ran to. The former were presided over by those to whom I’d dedicate Another Brick in the Wall. The latter were given by people I’d be more than glad to run into years later, especially when I’m trying hard to steer clear of dark sarcasm and thought control in the Men’s section of a clothing store.