Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. Embedded in the book covers and post will also be links to buy the books on Amazon India. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter.
In today’s Book Post 20 included are some of the titles I received in the past few weeks and are worth mentioning and not necessarily confined to parcels received last week.
Ruskin Bond’s latest book — A Time For All Thingsis a collection of his essays and sketches or he would prefer to refer to them as “short prose pieces”. It is the perfect bedtime reading book. Short, pleasantly written essays, in gentle English, evocative of a period gone by without being wistful. I do not know how to put it except to say that within each essay ( that I have read so far) I find in it resides a wonderful mix of happiness and pure joy. Such a peaceful, meditative quality to the essays that they are the perfect end to a hectic and busy day. I love the manner in which the essays are wonderful reminders of how we must pause and appreciate the beauty around us. Of course not all of us are as fortunate as Mr Bond is to live up in the mountains but even so we can pause and appreciate. I love the way he merges the sacred and the secular without underlining faith crudely as has become fashionable today. It is such a pleasure to experience. Many of these pieces will be familiar as having been anthologised in other collections for young and old, but it does not matter since it is a pleasure to have them gathered in one place.
Here are a few extracts to illustrate:
…the other day, taking a narrow path that left the dry Mussorie ridge to link up with Pari Tibba ( Fairy Hill), I ran across a path of lush green grass, and I knew there had to be water there.
The grass was soft and springy, spotted with the crimson of small, wild strawberries. Delicate maidenhair, my favourite fern, grew from a cluster of moist, glistening rocks. Moving the ferns a little, I discovered the spring, a freshlet of clear sparkling water.
I never cease to wonder at the tenacity of water — its ability to make its way through various strata of rock, zigzagging, back tracking, finding space, cunningly discovering faults and fissures in the mountain, and sometimes travelling underground for great distances before emerging into the open. Of course, there’s no stopping water. for no matter how tiny that little trickle, it has to go somewhere!
“A Marriage of the Waters”
In May and June, when the hills were brown and dry, it was always cool and green near the stream, where ferns and maidenhair and long grasses continued to thrive. Downstream I found a small pool where I could bathe, and a cave with water dripping from the roof, the water spangled gold and silver in the shafts of sunlight that pushed through the slits in the cave roof. ‘He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters.’ Perhaps David had discovered a similar paradise when he wrote those words; perhaps I too would write good words. The hill station’s summer visitors had not discovered this haven of wild and green things, I was beginning to feel that the place belonged to me, that dominion was mine.
“A Time for All Things”
When I was a boy I would occasionally visit Hardwar, sometimes in the company of my lost friend Kishen. In my first novel, The Room on the Roof, I have described how we crossed the Ganga in a small boat accompanied by a number of pilgrims, all chanting ‘Ganga-mai ki jai!’ It was a moving experience, both in my story and in reality. And whenever I visited Hardwar, I would sing out ‘Ganga-mai ki jai’ with whoever was with me.
I am not a religious person, but I have always been moved by the devotion of others. Every evening, after Beena ( my grand-daughter) has done her pooja, she brings me prasad, and I accept it humbly and gratefully because it is the symbol of her goodness and devotion. to light a candle is better than to curse the darkness.
And so here I am, in my eighties, trying to gather my thoughts and to see if I have any great thoughts. But none come to me. You must do your own thinking, dear reader.
“Thoughts on Passing Eighty”
( These extracts have been published with permission from Speaking Tiger)
Buy the book. Treasure it. Share it. You will not regret it.
Ruskin Bond A Time for All Things: Collected Essays and Sketches Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018. Pb. pp. 400. Rs. 499
The following is an extract from Ruskin Bond’s delicious new book Till the Clouds Roll By. It is a gently told, haunting memoir of his childhood, recounting incidents soon after his father passed away. He was lonely despite spending his holidays with his mother and her new family. The following extract has been used with permission from the publishers, Puffin Books.
The following day, when the hunting party headed for the jungle, I had the rest house to myself—except for Mohan, the boy assistant, who had been left in charge of the kitchen.
Exploring the old bungalow, I discovered a storeroom at the rear—a room full of old and broken furniture: a settee with the stuffing coming out, a bed with broken springs, a cupboard with a missing door. The remaining door swung open at my touch to reveal a treasure trove of books—books that were in good condition because they hadn’t been touched for years, the collection of some bygone forest officer perhaps.
Here I found enough reading to keep me occupied for the rest of the week. Here I discovered the ghost stories of M.R. James, that master of the supernatural tale, scholarly and convincing. Here I discovered an early P.G. Wodehouse novel, Love among the Chickens, featuring Ukridge, that happy optimist, who was to become my favourite Wodehouse
character. Ukridge always addresses everyone as ‘old horse’—‘And how are you, old horse?’or ‘Lend me a fiver, old horse!’—and for several months I found myself addressing friends and families in the same manner, until one day, back in school, I addressed my headmaster as ‘old horse’ and received a caning for my pains.
In the forest bungalow I also discovered Agatha Christie’s first Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John Buchan’s spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps and the short stories of O. Henry and W.W. Jacobs. There were some children’s books in that cupboard too—and I have to confess that I read very few children’s books as a boy. I had gone straight from comic papers to adult fiction!
The front veranda of the bungalow had a very comfortable armchair, and I spent most of the day stretched out in it with one of those books for company. Instead of becoming a great shikari, as my mother and stepfather might have wished, I had become an incurable bookworm, and was to remain one for the rest of my life.
Mohan would bring me bread and butter and a glass of hot tea, and I was quite content with this spartan lunch. The cook and the food baskets would go along with the shikar party, who would be enjoying mutton koftas and pilau rice whenever they tired of following an elusive tiger. But I was having an adventure of my own.
The shikar party decided to make one last rumble through the jungle in search of the fabled tiger. It was literally a rumble, because Mr Hari had engaged some thirty to forty villagers from across the river to ‘beat’ the jungle—that is, to advance in a line through the forest, beating drums, or kerosene tins, and blowing on horns, or home-made trumpets, in a bid to drive the forest creatures out of their lairs and into the open.
This they succeeded in doing, but in the wrong direction.
While the hunters waited for their quarry at the edge of the forest, the villagers—confused by the trumpeting of the elephants—took another route, in effect driving the animals to safety, and in the direction of the rest house.
I was sitting in the veranda, a book on my knee, when I heard a lot of grunting and squealing. I looked up to see a number of wild boars streaming across the clearing in front of me!
They emerged from one side of the jungle and disappeared into the thickets on the other side.
Now they were followed by a herd of deer—beautiful spotted chital, and then handsome, tall sambar. All emerging from the trees, moving swiftly across the clearing and making their way into the forest.
Peacocks and junglefowl, also disturbed by the village orchestra, flew across the clearing, exchanging sal for shisham.
Fascinated by this sudden appearance of birds and beasts, I remained sitting in my armchair—not in the least alarmed—because it was obvious that the animals were intent on getting as far away from humans as possible.
And presently I was rewarded with the sight of a lithe and sinewy leopard slinking past the bungalow. It may have been looking out for its own safety or it may have been following the
deer, but there it was—all black and gold in the late afternoon sun.
And then it vanished into the dense green foliage.
Hours later, the hunters returned, grumpy and empty-handed except for an unfortunate barking deer.
‘I saw a leopard while you were away,’ I told my mother and stepfather.
They were not impressed.
‘He’s making it up,’ said Mr Hari.
‘Well, he does have a vivid imagination,’ said my mother. ‘It must be all those books he’s been reading.’
I did not argue with them. You don’t argue with adults who have made up their minds about you.
The tiger had eluded them, but I had seen a leopard. So I had achieved a small victory.
Excerpted from Till the Clouds Roll by, authored by Ruskin Bond, published by Puffin Books (An imprint of Penguin Random House). MRP:250/-
For some peculiar reason poetry is quoted and used extensively everywhere but rarely does it get a regular space in a publishing house. It is often said poetry is too complicated to publish and to sell. It is subjective. Also many customers prefer to read poetry at the store and put the book back on the shelf. For many poets in India, self-publishing their poems has been popular. For generations of poets the go-to place was Writers Workshop begun by the late P. Lal. Some of the poets published by Writers Workshop included Vikram Seth, Agha Shahid Ali, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki Daruwalla, Kamala Das, Meena Alexander, Nissim Ezekiel, and Ruskin Bond. Some of the other publishing houses published occasional volumes of poetry too.
Having said that the self-publishing initiatives still continue. For instance a young poet and writer ( and journalist) Debyajyoti Sarma launched the i, write, imprint, press to publish poetry. Some of the poets published ( apart from him) include noted playwright Ramu Ramanathan, Uttaran Das Gupta, Sananta Tanty and Paresh Tiwari.
Now there are more opportunities for poets to publish in literary magazines as well. For instance well-known poet Sampurna Chattarji has been appointed the poetry editor of IQ magazine and is looking for submissions and hoping to be read as well! She writes about it on her blog. Another active space for poets is Poetry at Sangam which is edited by Priya Sarukkai Chhabra. It showcases poetry in English and translations as well as essays on poetics and news of new releases. Another vibrant space for poetry especially Urdu is the Jashn-e-Rekhta festival.
There are plenty more initiatives in other local languages, meet ups, open mike sessions etc where poets can recite/perform their work. In the past decade there has been a noticeable increase in these events whether informal groups that meet at local parks or coffee shops to more formal settings as a curated evening.
Undoubtedly poets and their poetry is thriving, just more publishers are needed to publish the poets.
In June 2017 while inaugurating the National Reading Mission programme the prime minister of India said that instead of presenting bouquets people should gift books. A great idea! During Diwali, festival of lights associated with the arrival of Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity, folks gift presents to each other. Why not books?
Here are my recommendations of some beautiful books. It is an eclectic list of books meant for readers of all ages. Diwali is an excuse to indulge oneself. Why not buy delicious books as gifts?!
Dayanita Singh: Museum Bhavan An extraordinary publishing achievement is to package the mind-blowing exhibition curated by photographer Dayanita Singh into this nifty, limited edition, box. Every piece is unique. A timeless treasure!
The Illustrated Mahabharata This has to be one of the most scrumptious books ever available. It is a retelling of the Hindu epic with beautiful illustrations and layouts.
On 20 June 2017 Ruskin Bond’s autobiography Lone Fox Dancing was released at Taj Man Singh Hotel, New Delhi. He was in conversation with noted journalist Nalin Mehta. To introduce Ruskin Bond his long time editor and co-founder Speaking Tiger, Ravi Singh, read out a beautiful speech remembering their decades of association. With Ravi Singh permission the speech is published below. I am also including a short clip I made at the launch of Ruskin Bond talking about the noted Hindi writer Rakesh Mohan being his teacher at Bishop Cotton School, Simla and later Bond’s poor attempt at translating Tennyson’s poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” into Hindi.
L-R: Ravi Singh, Ruskin Bond and Nalin Mehta
I remember my first meeting with Mr Bond. It was in 1995, shortly after I’d entered publishing, and I was both excited and nervous. I’d read his stories in school—‘The Kite Maker’, ‘A Face in the Dark’, ‘The Room of Many Colours’, ‘The Tiger in the Tunnel’—and I’d gone back to them many times: there was wonder and magic, of course, but they were also about unusual things—about losing and dying; children finding fellowship with elderly strangers; mutual, unspoken respect between people and animals; and some very subtle and scary ghosts. He was to me the equal of Chekhov, Tagore, Premchand or Dickens—like a benevolent but unreachable legend. By the time I met him, I had read many of his other works, including the intensely moving classic The Room on the Roof—and the memorable long stories A Flight of Pigeons, Time Stops at Shamli and Delhi Is Not Far.
So I wasn’t at all prepared for the understated, warm, witty and utterly approachable person who treated me as an equal and made me a friend. This happened so effortlessly, that it was only much later that I was surprised and grateful. It seemed entirely natural to have such an engaging and generous companion. And that is exactly whatRuskin Bond’s stories have done to millions over 60 years—to readers of all ages, and in big cities, small towns and little hamlets. Only the greatest writers can do that.
Lone Fox Dancing is the story of the making of this extraordinary storyteller and human being, who has never been afraid to be simple and entirely himself. The autobiography begins in Mussoorie in the 1930s, moves to Jamnagar, Dehradun, New Delhi, Jersey, London, and returns to Mussoorie. There’s mischief and adventure in it; there’s also loneliness, resilience, eccentricity, conviction, compassion—and above all, there’s friendship—with people, with birds and animals, with great trees and with little flowers growing out of broken concrete.
Read this book to see what’s been gained and lost in India since the 1930s and 40s—not in the halls of power but in the streets and mohallas, bazaars and cinema halls, jungles and railway stations. Read it to know how writers are made, beyond noise and glamour. Read it for the art of carrying on when you lose a beloved parent, when your work is rejected or under-appreciated, when someone you love doesn’t love you back, when people fail you or you fail them, when your earnings are paltry though your responsibilities are growing, or when winters get cold and miserable.Ruskin Bond has found there’s always reward if you persevere; there’s spring and birdsong after harsh winters, there’s beauty and there are friends in unexpected places, and a sense of humour—a good joke—and plain old optimism will sustain you through hard times and keep you grounded in good times.
Mr Bond’s long-awaited autobiography has everything we’ve cherished in his enduring stories and essays.
I really shouldn’t stand any longer between you and one of our finest, most entertaining and best-loved writers—except to say how delighted and privileged we are to have published his autobiography…
(Ravi Singh, Publishing Director and co-Founder, Speaking Tiger Books, sent this exclusive extract from Ruskin Bond’s autobiography Lone Fox Dancing. It is one of the publishing highlights of 2017 given the tremendous fan following Ruskin Bond commands. This autobiography at 100,000+ words is the longest book ever written by Ruskin Bond.)
And here I must pause to tell you a little more about Ayah, my guardian angel, surrogate mother, friend and beloved all rolled into one and wrapped up in a white sari. My mother, young in years and younger at heart, was often away attending the lunch and tea get-togethers that the ladies of the royal household liked to organize, or she would accompany the younger royals on picnics and excursions. My father spent more time with me, but he would be at work through much of the day. I would be left in the care of the servants—all but the ayah provided by the Jamnagar State. I had no objection to the arrangement, because they indulged me. Most of all, Ayah.
She was probably from one of the fishing communities of Kathiawar or from the poorer Muslim families from the north of India who worked in Christian and Anglo-Indian households. She must have been in her thirties and was unusually large and broad-limbed for an Indian woman, and shaped like a papaya, expansive at the hips and thighs. I was told she had a family of her own but I never saw them, and she never spoke of them. She was the one I spent the most time with at home—she stayed all day, washing my clothes, giving me a bath and telling me stories in Hindustani about jinns and fairies and the snake transformed into a handsome prince by the loving touch of a beautiful princess.
Ayah had large, rough hands and I liked being soaped and scrubbed by her, enjoying the sensation of her hands moving over my back and tummy. She could also use those hands very effectively to deliver a few resounding slaps, because I really was a little devil. But her anger vanished as quickly as it came when she saw me break into tears. And then she would break down herself, and cover me with big, wet kisses and gather me into herself, pressing my face to her great warm breasts. To be hugged and kissed, and generally fussed over, is one of the joys of infancy and childhood. My mother was not a physically demonstrative person—the occasional peck on the cheek was enough emotion for her. But Ayah more than made up for it. She would kiss my navel and nuzzle my tummy and tell the other staff, ‘I want to eat him up! I want to eat him up!’
I was in love with Ayah—it was a child’s love for a mother, but it was also a sensual, physical love. I loved the smell of her skin and her paan-scented breath and her dazzling smile. She was in love with my soft white skin and bathed and dressed me with infinite tenderness, and defended me against everyone, including my parents.
If I swallowed an orange seed, Ayah would say an orange tree would grow inside me. Being an imaginative child, this rather worried me because orange trees, I was told, had thorns on them. I did not want to worry my parents unduly, so I took my problem to Mr Jenkins, who looked serious, thought about it for a few moments, then said: ‘Don’t worry, it will only be a small tree.’
Still worried, I consulted Osman, who laughed and said, ‘Your ayah is just a gapori, don’t listen to her.’
‘What’s a gapori?’ I asked.
‘One who makes up stories—and exaggerates. Go and tell her you’ve swallowed a bean.’
I did, and she said, ‘Oh, baba, now you’ll have a bean-stalk growing inside you!’
‘And there will be a giant living in it?’ I asked.
She burst into laughter, seeing I’d caught her out.
‘Osman says you’re a gapori,’ I told her. And she and Osman had a terrible fight. She chased him around the house and forgave him only when he said he meant she was a pari, a fairy, not a gapori.
Still, I think I learnt something about telling stories from Ayah, as I did from Osman, although I had no idea that I would become a gapori of sorts one day.
Ruskin Bond Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography Speaking Tiger Books, New Delhi, India, 2017. Rs 599; hardback; 288 pages + 32-page photo insert
Last year I spotted Ruskin Bond at a literary festival but it was impossible to see him clearly. It was also the first time I saw an author in India encircled by large security men, more like bouncers seen outside clubs. They not only towered over Ruskin Bond but were very well built and were an extraordinary sight to behold. A testimony too the fan following Ruskin Bond has in India. He needed protection from his fans. Children flocked to him in droves. Parents prostrated themselves in front of the literary festival oragnisers to allow their children into the hall even though it was filled to capacity. Astounding indeed when you realise that Ruskin Bond prefers his solitude, tucked away up in his beloved hill town of Mussorie.
On 19 May 2017, Ruskin Bond turns 83. To celebrate it his publishers have scheduled a bunch of publications. Puffin India has released Looking for the Rainbow — a memoir he has written for young readers describing the time he spent with his father in Delhi. It was during the second world war. His father was with the Royal Air Force ( RAF), stationed at Delhi. Ruskin Bond’s parents were divorced and his mother was about to get married for the second time. His father decided Ruskin Bond could stay with him for a year in Delhi where he had some rooms rented — at first off Humayun Road and then later nearer to Connaught Place. Ruskin Bond remembers this time spent in Delhi fondly even later when he was sent off to boarding school in Simla. In fact decades later he recalls with a hint of sadness that Mr Priestly, his teacher, did not approve of young Ruskin poring over his dad’s letters so suggested he keep them away for safekeeping. At end of term when Ruskin Bond went to ask for his letters his teacher was clueless. Now in his eighties forgiving and generous as is his want Ruskin Bond remarks that Mr Priestly probably “meant well” but all that remains of that pile of letters is the one that the young boy spirited away — and still retains all these years later. Looking for Rainbow is a beautiful edition made richer by Mihir Joglekar’s illustrations.
Looking for Rainbow serves as a wonderful introduction and is probably the slim pickings of the larger project memoir Ruskin Bond will eventually publish with Speaking Tiger Books. It is as his publisher, Ravi Singh, told me the longest book Ruskin Bond has ever written — nearly a 100,000 words. It is “hugely readable. Moving, too, in parts.” Lone Fox Dancing is scheduled for June 2017. Earlier this year Scholastic India released a biography of his written by Shamim Padamsee in their Great Lives series.
His long-standing publisher, Rupa, with whom Ruskin Bond has a special relationship for decades now has also brought out two volumes of his works. The Wise Parrot is a collection of folktales retold by Ruskin Bond. He says in the introduction:
I may be no Scherazade, and that is a relief, for it would be rather difficult for me to think of stories knowing my head may be chopped off the next day, yet I have found some ancient legends that are as enthralling as hers and presented them here. There are creatures who have lived in our collective imaginations for ages. There are stories of wit and stories of immense stupidity. And in all this, what shines forth is the power of human imagination that has thrived for millions of years. From the first cave paintings, to today’s novels, the thrill of telling a story has never died down. And here’s wishing that it may live long, bringing people, animals, fairies and ghosts to life forever.
The Elephant and the Cassowary is an anthology of his favourite stories about wild animals and birds and the jungle. The title story is a perennial favourite and is utterly delightful. A master storyteller and a voracious reader like Ruskin Bond when become a brand name like no other have the luxury of also being tastemakers. As well-known prolific scifi writer and anthologist Isaac Asimov says in his splendid memoir I.Asimov : [An anthology] performs the same function as a collection does, bringing to the reader stories he may be glad to have a chance to read again or stories he may have missed altogether. New readers are able to read the more notable stories of the past.” Another anthology that Ruskin Bond has put together and is being released this week by Viking, an imprint of Penguin, is Confessions of a Book Lover. Both these anthologies between them contain previously published works by writers such as Rudyard Kipling, F.W. Champion, Henry Astebury Leveson, Joseph Conrad, Laurence Sterne, H.G. Wells, William Saroyan, Stacy Aumonier, and J.B. Priestley. Anthologies are a splendid way to discover new material even though some people think otherwise. Ruskin Bond has it right with these two eclectic anthologies. They jump centuries but the underlying principle of a good story is what matters. It is no wonder then to discover the delightful publishing connection between legendary publisher Diana Athill and Ruskin Bond. She gave him his first break as a writer while still at Andre Deutsch. She certainly knew how to spot talent!
( I wrote an article for the amazing literary website Bookwitty.com on “Penguin on Wheels”. An initiative of Walking BookFairs and Penguin Books India. It was published on 28 June 2016. Here is the original url: https://www.bookwitty.com/text/penguin-on-wheels-walking-bookfairs-and-penguin-b/57725752acd0d076db037bf7 . I am also c&p the text below. )
Literature does not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be a monologue. It has to be a conversation, and new people, new readers, need to be brought into the conversation too.”
-Neil Gaiman, Introduction, The View from the Cheap Seats ( 2016)
On the 16th of May 2016, Penguin Random House India circulated a press release about Penguin Books India’s one-year collaboration with Walking BookFairs (WBF) to launch “Penguin on Wheels”, a bookmobile that will travel through the eastern Indian state of Odisha promoting reading and writing.
This is not the first time Walking BookFairs has collaborated with a publishing house to promote reading. Their earlier “Read More, India” campaign saw Walking BookFairs supported by HarperCollins India, Pan MacMillan India, and Parragon Books India. Apart from these three publishers, WBF stocked books from various other publishers, including Tara Books, Speaking Tiger Books, Penguin, Duckbill, Karadi Tales, and Scholastic. “We got books delivered by our publishers on the road wherever we were displaying books.”
The concept of bookmobiles is not unusual in India, for some decades the state-funded publishing firm, National Book Trust, has maintained its own book vans. Yet it is the duo of Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray that has captured the public imagination.
Walking BookFairs was established two years ago while Satabdi Mishra was on a break from her job and Akshaya Rautaray quit his publishing job to set up an independent “simple bookstore” in Bhubaneshwar. The shop, which they prefer to think of as a “book shack”, runs on solar power. It is a simple space with the bare necessities and a garden. They allow readers to browse through the bookshelves, offering a 20-30% discount on every purchase throughout the year.
WBF also doubles as a free library. They introduced the bookmobile in 2014, as part of an outreach programme that would see them travelling to promote reading in the state. Speaking to me by email, Satabdi said,
“There are no bookshops or libraries in many parts of India. There are thousands of people who have no access to books. We started WBF in 2014 because we wanted to take books to more people everywhere. We have been travelling inside our home state Odisha for the last two years with books. We found that most people do not consider reading books beyond textbooks important in India. We wanted people to understand that reading story books is more important than reading textbooks. We wanted to reach out to more people with books. We also wanted to inspire and encourage more people across the country to read books and come together to open more community libraries and bookshops.”
India is well known for stressing the importance of reading for academic purposes rather than reading for pleasure. In a country of 1.3 billion people, where 40% are below the age of 25 years old, and the publishing industry is estimated to be of $2.2 billion, there is potential for growth. Indeed,there has been healthy growth across genres, quite unlike most book markets in the world.
The WBF team has been keen to promote reading since it is an empowering activity. They began in the tribal district of Koraput, Odisha, where they carried books in backpacks and walked around villages. They displayed books in public spaces like bus stops and railways stations or spreading them out on pavements or under trees, whatever was convenient and accessible. “That works because people in smaller towns feel intimidated by big shops,” they say.
Apart from public book displays, they also visit schools, colleges, offices, educational institutions, and residential neighbourhoods. They soon discovered that children and adults were not familiar with books. Bookstores too seem only to be found in urban and semi-urban areas and are lacking in rural areas, but once easy access to books is created there is a demand. As Neil Gaiman says in the essay “Four Bookshops”, these bookshops “made me who I am”, but the travelling bookshop that came to his day boarding school was “the best, the most wonderful, the most magical because it was the most insubstantial”. (The View from the Cheap Seats)
Speaking again via email, Satabdi says that they’ve found, “Children’s books are always the most sought after. We have many interesting children’s storybooks and picture books with us. We found that in many places, not just children but also adults and young people enthusiastically pick up children’s books, browse through and read them. Beyond a couple of urban centres in India, big cities, there are no bookshops. Most bookshops that one comes across are shops selling textbooks, guide books or essay books. Many people were actually looking at real books for the first time at WBF.”
In India the year-on-year growth rate for children’s literature is estimated to be 100%. Satabdi Mishra and Akshaya Rautaray stock 90% fiction. Rautaray says, “We believe in stories. I think, if you need to understand the world around you, if you need to understand science and history and sociology, you need to understand stories. I believe in a good book, a good story.”
The categories include literary fiction, classics, non-fiction, biographies, books on poetry, cinema, politics, history, economics, art visual imagery, young adult, picture books, children’s books, and regional literature from Odia and Hindi. The emphasis is on diversity, but they do not necessarily stock bestsellers or popular books like romance, textbooks, or academic books. That said, the Penguin on Wheels programme will dovetail beautifully with, “Read with Ravinder” another of the publisher’s reading promotion campaigns, spearheaded by successful commercial fiction author Ravinder Singh.
In December 2015, Satabdi and Akshay launched their “Read More, India” campaign (#ReadMoreIndia), which saw them take their custom-built book van, loaded with more than 4000 books across India. They covered 10,000kms, 20 states, in three months (from 15th Dec 2015 to 8th March 2016).
Over the course of the journey, they sold forty books a day, met thousands of people, and had a number of interesting experiences. One anecdote that gives an insight into the passion and trust that the young couple displays is of that of an elderly gentleman in Besant Road Beach road, Chennai. The older man was out for his daily jog and stopped to look at the books. He wanted to buy some books, but had left his wallet behind.
“We asked him to take the books and pay us later via cheque or bank transfer. He seemed surprised that we were letting him take the books without paying. He took the books and sent the money later with his driver. We want people to read more books. And if people cannot buy books, we want them to read books for free for as long as they want. People pay us in cash, in kind, sometimes they take books pay later, pay through credit/debit cards.”
The Penguin on Wheels campaign was launched because Penguin Books India had been following WBF’s activities and reached out to them. Earlier, they had collaborated for an author event in Odisha, but this new move is a focussed effort that will see the bookmobile travel within Odisha.
The books are curated by Akshay as Penguin Books India said graciously that “they [WBF] know best what their readers like more”. It will consist of approximately 1000 titles from the Penguin Random House stable. The collection will have books by celebrated authors, including Jhumpa Lahiri, John Green, Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Devdutt Pattanaik, Salman Rushdie, Ravinder Singh, Twinkle Khanna, Hussain Zaidi, Khushwant Singh, Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond, and Emraan Hashmi.
Contests and author interactions will also be organised with the support or Penguin Random House. It will start with Ravinder Singh’s visit to Bhubaneshwar for the promotion of his newly launched book, Love that Feels Right. Satabdi Mishra adds, “We are happy to partner with PRH through the WBF ‘Penguin on Wheels’ that will spread the joy of reading around.”
Every night Sarah and I have a bedtime ritual. She picks out a book and we read it together. Some of the titles we read these past few days are Ruskin Bond’s Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories, Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys and Devashish Makhija’s When Ali Became Bajrangbali.
Ruskin Bond’s new offering — Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories is a delightful comic-like chapter book consisting of three tales wonderfully illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. The speech bubbles make it easy for a new reader. Well laid out text and pictures. Clean. Not fussy. Speech bubbles consist of simple sentences. The printing is neat too. One of the pitfalls of these complicated books is the mismatch in colours or text not sitting well within the prescribed boundaries. Every story panel is neatly placed. Each page is filled with light…the water colours are not dreary to engage with. All these factors make it a pleasure to read.
Another one illustrated by Priya Kuriyan is Devashish Makhija’s absolutely stupendous When Ali Became Bajrangbali. The story line is delightfully simple and straightforward but deceptively so. There are layers and layers to it. The child enjoys it for the story, rhythm and the roller coaster of emotions it causes. The illustrations incorporating a montage of advertisements and street art give it a richness too. For the adult, from the tongue-in-cheek title onwards it is fun, fun, fun to read while building upon memories too. I love particularly the literary reincarnation of Mr Moochhvaala. He first appeared as “Detective Moochwala” in his own comic strip created by Ajit Ninan in the now-defunct children’s magazine Target. And here is a lovely YouTube link to Devashish Makhija reading the story out at Bookaroo Literature Festival, Pune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pthzhJxBSiA&ab_channel=TulikaBooks
The last one is laugh aloud rib tickling The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey. It is a chapter book that has the Bad Wolf of countless fairy tales and folklore as the main character. He is trying to turn over a good leaf and become acceptable. He puts together a motley crew of cronies in the Good Guys Club consisting of Mr Shark, Mr Piranha and Mr Snake. They go on quests such as rescuing a stranded cat in a tree —who is petrified when he notices his wouldbe rescuers. The Good Guys Club members hope that such quests will improve their “tarnished” image as vicious and untrustworthy creatures. A very tough call when they look more like the mafia! Here is the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqbUANlqXXE
Buy these books and make the children happy! Absolutely delightful!
In India these books are available by the following publishers:
Ruskin Bond’s Monkey Trouble and Other Grandfather Stories by Red Turtle, Rupa Publishers
Devashish Makhija’s When Ali Became Bajrangbali by Tulika Books