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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!

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Of Childhood Dreams and Book Lovin’ in Bhutan

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express

The slanting rays of the sun peer through the matchbox-stacked buildings that converge onto the square. Traffic slows down at a signal, not from bright changing lights but from dance-like movements of white-gloved hands of the traffic policeman at the junction.

Thimpu is an unabashedly quiet capital city, happily distanced from the only airport serving the country at Paro, 50 km to the west. Among a populace of less than one lakh, there are many who leave for neighbouring nations like India, usually for education and better employment. But some return to their pristine homeland, like Kunzang Choki (or ‘Mui’ to loved ones), who finished school at Darjeeling followed by university at Pune in India. All this time Choki nursed a childhood dream of opening a bookstore, and it was only when she was faced with the unavailability of titles she wanted to read that she decided to open one in Thimpu.

Nestled along a winding road close to the traffic junction on Hogdzin Lam leading to the Clocktower Square, Junction Bookstore is a quaint gem drawing locals and tourists. All visitors are greeted by Toto, a black mountain dog adopted by Choki when the shop opened in 2010. At different times of the day, he may or may not be accompanied by Suzy, the other adopted pet of the bookstore family or any of the seven strays who eat their meals with them every day.

Inside, rows of children’s stories, classics, autobiographies and a special section on writings from and about Bhutan line the shelves. The store owner’s namesake Kunzang Choden’s Folktales of Bhutan is a popular fictionalised insight into the country’s culture. The History of Bhutan by Karma Phuntsho has also been well received by local readers. At the counter, there are glass jars filled with soil friends and customers have brought back from faraway lands. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a book and read, with tea or coffee. There is a tip box to donate for the beverages; this helps buy food supplies for the dogs or refuel the beverage stock.

A Reading Group of six to seven members meets on Thursdays to debate books. Another group, a short story club—or the Junior Bookclub—meets every Sunday to read stories. The bookstore hosted an exhibition last year titled ‘Deliberately Framed: Scenes from a Poetic Stew’ where Choki and her videographer friend Solly collected poems from 16 poets and presented them (unnamed) to photographers who were give three weeks to take a picture best representing their understanding of the chosen poem. The photographers and poets met and saw the outcome only on the day of the exhibition.

“How do you survive, in a country of illiterates?” Choki was once asked by a customer.

The National Library of Bhutan, a few kilometres from the store, was built in 1967 to help preserve religious books and manuscripts. This imposing traditional structure resembles a central temple tower of a Dzong and houses archives and images of revered figures, thus becoming a place of worship, often circumambulated by devotees.

Bhutan is commemorating the 60th birth anniversary of their fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, this year by hosting several events, including observance of 2015 as National Reading Year. While efforts to establish e-libraries across the country are underway, some existing brick and mortar stores, like Junction, have recently made a plea to Prime Minister Tsehring Tobgay to allow importing books from India without 20 per cent custom duty.

Owning and running a bookstore in Bhutan is a labour of love more than a capitalist enterprise, given the modest market size. People prefer to self-publish, which helps maintain a certain natural flavour but also loses the sharpness of editing. In this milieu, love for the written word led a passionate poet and bibliophile like Choki to turn a childhood dream into a reality. Even as her country balances local traditions with restricted tourism and taxed imports, the joys derived from turning the pages of a tome continue to light up the faces of those who step in to her book-laden world.

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Framed by Wanderlust with Neeraj Narayanan (Founder, This Guy’s On His Own Trip), Delhi, India

Neeraj Narayanan aka Captain Nero quit his job in 2013 to chase his dreams of living a life full of adventures. Since then he has been to 25 countries, run with the bulls in Spain, deep sea soloed in the South China sea, lived with gypsies in a cave, climbed an active volcano and been chased by a bear in Croatia. In Delhi, he spends most of his time sleeping or taking people on heritage walks. Join this guy on a trip, sometime. Until then, read about them here and see what secrets he’s sharing with me today.

Last place you visited
In the last seventy five days, I have been on the road for 67 days. Since June, I spent 50 odd days travelling through Turkey, Greece and then the heart of the Balkans ­ Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania. Then after coming back to India and spending a week at home, I spent the next sixteen days in the mountains of Kashmir and Ladakh. I might be needing a holiday from a holiday now!

Three places on your travel wish list
South America, New Zealand and Antarctica. That is a lot of Tropic of Capricorn!

An unforgettable experience from a journey
Being lost in a forest in Thailand for three days and spending those days with five wild elephants. Initially, it started with me gingerly walking upto them and hoping they would not crush me. By the end of three days, I had learnt to mount them, climb up the trunk and sit on top, and bathe and feed them. One of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Five things you always carry on holiday
I would love to believe I do not need many necessary things on a holiday. I want to stop carrying any phone soon enough. A camera and a set of clothes seem to be the only important things, besides a positive and open attitude and a desire to keep being overwhelmed.

Would you rather head to the beach, the mountains or city streets
I have always been a nature lover, so the first two attract me more. I do love smaller cities and towns too, though.

A place you’d like to visit again and again
Kotor (in Montenegro) looks like a picture postcard, arguably one of the prettiest places I have seen. But Bhutan is very close to my heart. I have lead four group trips there and they have all been very special.

A place you wish you hadn’t visited
That hasn’t happened to me yet. I want to go everywhere, and I think I will love them all.

A person (real/fictional) you’d like to go on holiday with, and where
Bear Grylls would always be a first choice. I love and look up to seemingly reckless adventurers, guys who are fearless and love nature and the outdoors. I would love to go on a trip with men like Bear or Will Gadd or Alex Hannold, to anywhere ­ a mountain, an uninhabited island, a treacherous landscape, an intimidating jungle ­ and live with them, and learn survival skills from them. That would be fantastic.

Your holidays are incomplete without
They are incomplete without me changing at least one plan last minute, incomplete without me having lived with at least one stranger, incomplete without me trying out at least one risky sport or adventure activity.

A stranger you met during a journey who you’re still in touch with
Well, I take people on group trips for a living. I am in touch with quite a few of them. From my solo trips, there are a couple of boys from America I met on an island in the South China Sea with whom I still talk online. And a couple of Spanish girls I met two years back.

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!

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Book Review: Inside ‘The Heat and Dust Project’ with Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

Saurav Jha and Devapriya RoyThis is not a honeymoon or an escape. It is a conscious journey into a world as yet far removed from their own. It will become a permanent break from their unsettled city lives and a portrait of what has for long fueled their relationship. Coming together during their years spent at Presidency College in Kolkata, India, Saurav and Devapriya never harbored dreams of a life linked to a monthly paycheck. Moving on to the creatively charged milieu of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, their intensely passionate environment left them searching for their own version of a fulfilling life.

The answer came in 2009 as an idea that involved traveling across the length and breadth of India, with a budgeted restriction to boot. While it was Devapriya’s idea to put the daily ‘bed and board’ budget to Rs. 500, it was Saurav who proudly owns to having executed it. Soon they pitched it as a book and within months set off on a commissioned, rickety ride across India.

The Heat and Dust ProjectThe book finally shaped up into The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat, a title released by Harper Collins India earlier this year. Initially struggling to describe the entire journey in one book, they soon realized the enormity of putting their experience into words and restricted this first part to only a section of the journey – a thirty-three day leg. The book is as much a delineation of their step by step journey as a historical, anecdotal account of the regions they visited. It is also a reflection of the rigmaroles that a relationship, in their case a five year marriage at the time, goes through on a journey.

The writing process seeped into their plans, with people, places and stories needing to be noted down, in a diary by Devapriya and in his mind full of a hundred stories by Saurav. Devapriya mentions an instance during the journey, in Gujarat, where they left the hotel room with the mission to ‘look for a story’. Most others simply happened to them. In addition to the budget, having set other rules such as not staying in one place for more than three days, a learning from monks who believed that to be enough time to ‘sprout roots’, the couple were forever on the go.

During the journey, where they were back in Delhi, while taking their Israeli friends (twin brothers who readers encounter more than once in the book) on a tour across their city, Devapriya admits to feeling a sense of “intense loss” while crossing the area of South Delhi they used to call home. Now having circled back to the same apartment they held before their journey, they are happily, permanently “dislocated”. Neck deep in the manuscript of the second leg of their journey, the ninety day sojourn from Delhi to Kanyakumari and back up via the Coromandel Coast, they are forever inching closer to their ideal, of an itinerant idler. The second book slated for a June 2016 release will also introduce someone they consider having come closest to their dream state, Anon Ananda, a Canadian of Gujarati descent, whom the couple met in the hills of North India. The release will be followed by their journey to East and North-East India, again for a pre-commissioned book.

While readers await this introduction, the world of these young writers has heralded them into events centered on their book (launch events are soon to be held in Delhi, followed by Mumbai) and the trappings of being a writer among today’s ever diminishing reader class. Seated at a coffee shop in Vasant Vihar in South Delhi, close to their home and a few meters away from ‘Fact & Fiction’, a bookstore that announced closure last month, the reality is playing out in the couple’s own neighborhood.

As we walk outside Devapriya points to a stall at the entrance of the complex, which once stalked only books. These have now been moved to a corner on the ground, while clothes of indeterminate shape and design take up majority of space. The hawker greets the couple as we move closer, telling them that some new titles have been added. We stand there watching Rushdie sit adjacent to Jackie Collins, while Kafka looks over from another line. We speak of recent reading lists and authors we’ve commonly devoured, wondering if soon writers will be the only ones to find joy in the written word. For the sake of those immersed in a writerly life, may such a time not come for very many years.

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Road Trippin’ with an Infant Ally: Srinagar-Leh-Manali with a 9 Month Old

Riding the MountainThis wasn’t a chuckle. It was a loud gurgle expressing a form of delight she had never before displayed. Stretched on her stomach, lying first in her mother’s, then her father’s lap, she had been lowered closer to the water so that her tiny hands could touch it. Who would have imagined that our nine-month-old baby would find such joy running her hands through the placid Dal Lake in Srinagar on an evening boat ride.

Parents are usually judged by their ability to be responsible and caring, certainly never for being adventurous. When the opportunity of a road trip from Srinagar to Leh and back through Manali presented itself, we knew our accompanying infant wouldn’t mind. After all, her travels had begun from the womb, as the only companion on her mother’s work trips to Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jaipur and as part of an entourage on a wildly rushed pleasure trip across Europe.

Ladakh, though, was different. At this high-altitude region, adults were known to experience terrible sounding things such as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Parental phobia (discretion?) would consider it an unwise trip choice with a child. But in reality, and as our research prior to the trip showed, children older than three months can adapt to high altitudes as well as adults can. Our infant would actually come out better.

As we left the verdant views of Srinagar behind and began our slow ascent to Leh, our daughter showed us a precursor to what became a routine throughout the 10-day trip. She was rocked to sleep by the undulating motions of the car and raised her head every time we stopped, as if to ask, “Where are we now?” She posed atop a boulder in Sonmarg, got onto a gondola after bracing serpentine peak season queues at Gulmarg and displayed discomfiture only at the top when the cold winds blew.

Her smiles weren’t dampened like ours by the treacherous road leading to Kargil, our second night stop after Srinagar. En route to the town made famous by war and victory, we broke our journey for a windy visit to Vijaypath, the war memorial in Dras, which was followed by tea watching the sunset and the owner pointing in the direction of Tiger Hill, whence the enemy had come. Over the last few kilometres leading to Kargil, the lights on the road went out. The only sound, in what was late evening but seemed like the dead of night, was that of the river rushing beneath us as the tyres turned on the edge of the road that was nearly a rubble. This was National Highway 1D, an erstwhile Central Asian trade route connecting Srinagar-Leh-Yarkand.

RidingBack on the road the next day, we faced a blockade for a couple of hours, which threatened to undo our trip and made all adults churlish for good reason. The child, however, remained curious, sleepy, hungry by turns, helping us forget the situation. Entering Leh was a study in how awestruck nature can leave you, with its varied hues and stunning topography. Those who fly in directly to Leh need one day of acclimatisation. For precaution, even road trippers popped pills to keep their heads steady. Our girl stretched her arms in the wind and squinted at the sun, getting the driver to admit never having seen (in his 20-year driving life) a child enjoy a road trip so much. As we traversed high-altitude roads, her cheeks reddened by the sun and wind and body kept hydrated as suggested by web research, she had begun to resemble the children of the mountains. People wanted pictures with her at the Hemis Monastery and watching her made a woman at the Stok Palace Museum lament leaving her grandson behind.

Road trips nearly never stay true to course, least so when taken with a young companion. But they certainly promise (im)perfect adventures—whether in the form of a yak ride through a secluded open field, raucous cries at a double-humped camel’s face, special prayers and blessed intonations from a monk or when a moment of quietude beside a picturesque lake is punctured by shuffling sounds of a tiny hand, lifting a stone to devour.

This article appeared in The New Indian Express

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Framed by Wanderlust with Amrita Samant (Photographer, Mommy Shots and ThatWindowSeat), Chennai, India

Amrita is a baby-grapher who loves to travel (looking on from ThatWindowSeat), drink wine, chase light, eat good food and all this while dodging selfie-sticks across the globe.

She’s joining me today for a quick (and not dirty) Q&A about her wandering soul and its many journeys. Travel with us will you.

Amrita Samant at a Holiday in FranceLast place you visited: France (July 2015)

Three places on your travel wish list: Russia, Iceland and Japan

An unforgettable experience from a  journey: A haunted rented house experience in Bari, Italy. Doors would open and close by themselves. Another one, learning to kayak on the ganges was overwhelming but an experience that pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

Five things you always carry on holiday: My camera/iPhone, sunglasses, sunscreen, multiple shoe options (just-in-case) and pepper spray.

Would you rather head to the beach, the mountains or city streets: If I had to pick one, it would be the mountains, But I try and give my trips a combination of at least two. (Greedy me!).

A place you’d like to visit again and again: Italy. Anyday!

A place you wish you hadn’t visited: None. I’m glad that hasn’t happened yet.

A person (real/fictional) you’d like to go on holiday with, and where: Can I ignore this one?

Your holidays are incomplete without:  A trip to the local food markets and a local movie at the theatres.

A stranger you met during a journey who you’re still in touch with: A (now) dear friend named Parvati whom I met in Halong Bay, Vietnam in 2012 on a terribly boring couple-y cruise 🙂 

If you’d like to participate in this series or nominate a wanderlust-afflicted friend, holler on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!

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Book Review: A Carpet Ride to Khiva, By Christopher Aslan Alexander

Christopher Aslan Alexander_A Carpet Ride to Khiva

Christopher Aslan Alexander – A Carpet Ride to Khiva

With his tall, thin frame and bespectacled face, alongwith a Turkish middle name sandwiched between his Christian roots, Christopher Aslan Alexander would have stood out in most places. As destiny would have it, this Turkey born, Beirut-bred lad from Britain found himself in Uzbekistan in the late ’90s, while volunteering with an NGO to write a guidebook about Khiva. At this western border desert oasis close to Turkmenistan, Aslan (his adopted name during his stay) was nearly 700 kilometers away from Samarkand, the tourist-poster city of Uzbekistan.

During his seven year stay here he would find a loving family, a crumbling town still reeling under a Soviet hangover (“Khiva was to play a crucial role in pushing Russian south towards India”, Aslan informs us early on), a voracious appetite for bribes amongst all government machinery and a nation united in their love for a Mexican soap opera.

In his diary from the time, ‘A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road‘, Aslan takes us to the heart of the city, on foot alongside him through the labyrinthine streets within the Ichan Qa’la, or walled city, (‘the most homogeneous example of Islamic architecture in the world‘). He is also our guide in navigating the ways of this desert world, when he begins setting up a carpet weaving workshop, with help of his local family, recruiting marginalised members from nearby villages – the differently abled, the women secluded from society and those battling the rules laid by missing men.

The designs for these carpets are a stunning study in history, from Timurid patterns to Persian and Mughal miniature paintings. Traveling back to England during the time, Aslan meets with Jon Thompson, Oxford professor of carpet history, and gets his hands on Amy Briggs’ essay on Timurid carpets to prepare design inspiration references to take back to the workshop, being run out of an erstwhile madrassah. He enlightens us along the way on the motifs and their significance. Speaking about distinguishing features of Timurid carpets he writes, “The main giveaway that a carpet from Timurid was in the border, which consisted of stylized letters, evolved and embellished to appear like Celtic knots in some cases.”

In reference to miniatures, which are another major source of inspiration for the carpets created at the workshop, he tells us how the word itself has been derived “from a reddish-orange pigment ‘minium’, that was popular with Persian and Mughal minaturists” and “the centre of a miniature would never contain a human being, as only Allah could ever occupy this position.”

The love affair with silk is similarly illustrated through snippets from history, “Until 1924, the Khanate of Khiva was the only country outside China to use silk money, each note handwoven and then printed in the mint located in the Kunya Ark.”

When he is avoiding boisterous parties that end in intrusive questions on his non-existent marital life, this vegetarian traveler watches mountains of “plov, the national dish, ‘of rice, carrot-shavings and raisins topped with dumps of mutton and fat’” being readied for festivities, participating in them as much as a local.

We also follow him across the border into Afghanistan on a sourcing trip for natural dyes, a mis-adventure that is a reminder of what Aslan’s work in this region really entails. His love affair with the town, its people and his desires to make the workshop self-sustainable, are abruptly impeded by local authorities, threatened by the freedom, sincerity and appreciation the workshop has received. He is the outsider they would like to keep away and in the end they do, exiling him without proper documentation to prove the charges.

This book is a journey into a fascinating culture and its crumbling edifice, of daily triumphs amidst layers of corruption, of a young man finding a new life, a new family and a purpose in a land he now calls home.

“I wrote A Carpet Ride to Khiva because I needed a way of gaining closure on my time in Khiva, and I didn’t know what else to do”, Aslan said in an interview in 2010. He continues to find his way back to Central Asia, most recently working with yak herders to find distribution for their wool. When he’s not writing, he is “living the sequel”, one the world is waiting to read.

If, like me, you’re fascinated by this region, here are some more books on Uzbekistan to add to the reading list:

Travels in Central Asia by Arminius Vambery

A Ride to Khiva by Frederick Burnaby

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

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To Alwar and Back in a Heartbeat

One fine saturday…

Storytellers of Wonder

The yellow of her odhni, of the mustard in the breeze, of the unabashed sun.

It is the color that follows you through the dusty roads that lead out of Delhi and towards Alwar, the ‘Gateway to Rajasthan’. Sitting to the north of the capital city Jaipur, this erstwhile princely state now beckons weekend free-wheelers to Havelis-turned-hotels, the Siliserh lake, and the nearby Sariska Tiger reserve.

We drifted out of foggy Delhi for a taste of the Haveli life, if only for a night. With the Aravali hills flanking the road in the distance, we were headed to Burja Haveli, an over 200 years old abode reminiscent of traditional Rajasthani architecture, now renovated as a heritage property.

The Haveli in its heyday probably celebrated in solitude. Today the burgeoning town and its accouterments surround it. And yet when you step inside, not without being greeted cheerily by Hari Singh

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Lifesaving Techniques: Now only a book-shelf away

The NamesakeIn Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake Ashok Ganguly survives a train accident because rescue workers spot him, thanks to the copy of Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat that he is holding. That book, in effect, saves his life.
Books have often come to my rescue on journeys that were either too long or too tedious or at other times in unexpected ways.

If the trains taking me from Delhi to Gwalior and back, in the winter of 1999, had met with an accident, I may have survived or been caught dead with a copy of the only Danielle Steel novel I’ve read. I don’t remember the title. It was about a woman whose life kept getting worse as the novel progressed. I would’ve thrown the book out of the train window if it hadn’t been a borrowed copy. I just recall a black cover and the hope at the time that I had a newspaper to cover it. I certainly did not want to be caught dead with it.

Who Moved My Cheese?Reading in the car isn’t the best thing to do, but the long wait at traffic lights in Delhi often comes to the rescue. On a certain Sunday ten years ago, I discovered Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese in the dashboard of my friend’s car. We were on our way to the India Habitat Centre from NOIDA. I had finished the book in the car by the time we were on our way back. So had we been in an accident that day, my only hope of survival would have been a 50 odd page self-help book. Hardly exciting, considering I wasn’t helping my ‘self’ very much by reading about mice, who were supposed to represent something greater and more meaningful.

Bombay--London--New YorkAnother book I read over a week or so on my way to work and back was Amitava Kumar’s Bombay-London-New York. I can best describe it as a literary travelogue. It was an interesting read, though I always drew a blank from people if I told them what I was reading those days. But at least being caught dead with it wouldn’t have given me nightmares in my afterlife.

To the LighthouseBeginning of 2007 saw me reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse on the flight from Delhi to Dubai. Supposedly you can be jailed in Dubai for just about anything. Therefore, I decided to carry something non-controversial. An early 20th century British author, a dead one at that, didn’t look like a one way ticket to jail. And had there been hijackers on the plane, they would have had to confiscate my harmless copy of Woolf. I may have even been let off for giving them ideas about suicide, Virginia Woolf style.

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in IranAnother lifesaver was Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad. Waiting at the Delhi airport for two hours was made easier by imagining I was in Tehran, very much a part of the ‘adventures’ of this ‘hyphenated american’ journalist. If not for this book, there would have been hell to pay. I would have definitely killed some person or the other if I had to wait for two hours in the heat with nothing to do!

As a result of all of the above, there is one superstition in my life that takes precedence over others:

Always carry a book with you.

You never know how it could end up saving your life.

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Street-Side Sunday Surprise

(This post originally appeared here)

When Edward Spenser wrote his epic poem The Faerie Queene celebrating the Tudor Dynasty and Elizabeth I, little could he have imagined that more than 400 years later the monetary worth of his words would be tested by a weighing contraption installed in Delhi.

At 0.82 kgs, Spenser’s allegorical masterpiece exchanges hands at Rs. 180. Meanwhile, a student laments at not having located Homer in the ‘Classic Novel at Rs. 200’ pile while another is contemplating picking up Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy.

Jostling amidst book hungry crowds at the weekly market in Daryaganj is a treat every Delhi dweller and city traveller must partake in. Stretching for nearly two kilometres on Asaf Ali Road is a pavement full of the most eclectic collection of books you’d find anywhere. From a 1942 Yugoslavian edition ofTwenty Thousand Leagues to Monet’s letters, Premchand’s Complete Works or a tattered Jackie Collins paperback, this Sunday book market is certainly for everyone. Whether your vocation or interests lie in art, architecture, design, food, medicine or comics, you’ll find that strolling through the narrow pathway lining the book-display is a wonderful way to start your Sunday.

Prices differ based on discounts over printed rates, fixed weight-based calculations or simply grab-as-you-go short change (Rs. 10 for second hand P.D. James for instance). And all of these remain at the discretion of the shopkeeper. Even if you’ve spotted a nearly new hardbound copy of Victor Hugo’s Complete Works, it is unwise to display the gleam in your eyes. Bargaining would become that much more difficult. Instead it’s advisable to leisurely pick up the desired copy, turn it around, flip through its pages (even as your heart continues to flutter ever so much) and then nonchalantly ask for the best price. It may also do well to carry a bag along to fill all your goodies in. Books within reach that are not bought for seemingly avoidable reasons are what bibliophile nightmares are made of.

Having begun in the 1960s, the Daryaganj Book Bazaar has lived through decades of changes the city has witnessed. The book market has retained its charm among students, academics, collectors and travellers ever eager to dive hand-first in search of a treasure. There are those who flock here as a Sunday morning ritual and others who’re crossing it off the list of things to do in the city. Either way, the activity promises a Sunday morning well spent. And one that is likely to end in unparalleled joy at having found a gem you weren’t even searching for.