Finale Of The Birthday Bookathon

For someone who can never seem to quench my thirst for literature from around the world, I had set out to read books from around India, in keeping with my reading goals for the year. The idea was to “travel the country through literature” – read at least one book from each of the twenty-nine states and seven union territories, making up a minimum of thirty-six books. The birthday bookathon started on the 14th of November last year (my birthdate), and concluded today. The objective behind this literary endeavor was to explore India through books. I wanted to identify lesser known books/authors, give a chance to newbie writers, dig into books I might have missed in the past, explore regional literature and translated books. Not all of the titles I picked up are popular books that might show up on a Google search. I intentionally avoided googling lists on Indian literature, and stayed away from recommendations from book clubs, for the simple reason that the same books/writers keep showing up and one’s reading gets very limited. I went about the task by listing down all the states and union territories and looking for local writers from each place. The criteria that had to be met for a book to be included in the bookathon were – it needed to be set in a particular state or any city within that state, or the author was a native of that place though the book wasn’t set there, or the author was writing about his/her own hometown. Preference was given to translated books from regional languages.

These were the books I read through the year (specific to my birthday reading goals. Overall, there were more books not part of Indian literature). As usual, I tried to maintain a mix of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, anthologies, plays and poetry. Many have been reviewed on this blog site, and I’ll get around to writing about the pending ones as I get the time.

STATES

1) Assam – If A River by Kula Saikia

2) Arunachal Pradesh – Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

3) Andhra Pradesh – Stories from Andhra by Ramakanth J

4) Bihar –  A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar

5) Chhatisgarh – The Burning Forest by Nandini Sundar

6) Goa – Poskem by Wendell Rodericks

7) Gujarat – Fence by Ila Arab Mehta

8) Haryana – Come, Before Evening Falls by Manjul Bajaj

9) Himachal Pradesh – A Year in Himachal by Humera Ahmed

10) Jammu-Kashmir – The Siege of Warwan by G.D.Bakshi

11) Jharkhand – The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

12) Karnataka – Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, and Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

13) Kerala – The Sixth Finger by Malayatoor Ramakrishnan, and The Legends of Khasak by O.V.Vijayan

14) Madhya Pradesh – A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

15) Maharashtra – Zopala by V.P.Kale, Rangresha by Shanta Shelke, and Bloodline Bandra by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

16) Manipur – Mother, Where’s My Country by Anubha Bhonsle

17) Meghalaya – Onaatah by Paulami Dutta Gupta

18) Mizoram – Zorami by Malsawmi Jacob

19) Nagaland – Son of the Thundercloud by Easterine Kire

20) Odisha – A Life Like No Other by Sujata Prasad, and Yagnaseni by Pratibha Ray

21) Punjab – Time Out by Jasjit Mansingh

22) Rajasthan – Annals of Mewar by James Tod

23) Sikkim – Beyond the Goal by Mohammad Amin-ul Islam, and Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions by Palden Gyatso Tenzing

24) Tamil Nadu – Poonachi by Perumal Murugan, and A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

25) Telangana – The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

26) Tripura – Human Interference on River Health by Shreya Bandyopadhyay and Sunil Kumar De

27) Uttar Pradesh – Run to Realise by Abhishek Mishra, and Nirmala by Premchand

28) Uttarakhand – My Kumaon by Jim Corbett, and Love Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

29) West Bengal – Murder in the City by Supratim Sarkar

UNION TERRITORIES

1) Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Islands in Flux by Pankaj Sekhsaria

2) Chandigarh – Crossroads by Preeti Singh

3) Dadra Nagar – Did not find any literature

4) Daman and Diu – Travelling Through Gujarat, Daman and Diu by Adam Yamey

5) Delhi – Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

6) Lakshadweep – Lakshadweep Adventure by Deepak Dalal

7) Puducherry – Evolution and the Earthly Destiny by Nolini Kanta Gupta

Forty-four books in all, comprising regional literature from all around India. Here are some of the books from the Birthday Bookathon – borrowed ones have been dutifully returned, and Kindle reads cannot be stacked.

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In addition to these books, I also identified numerous others which have been added to my list for future reading. Literature is so vast, and new books are written even as one struggles to finish previous works. Those of you who have been following this blog site and have read my book reviews, would be aware of my reasons for selecting each book. Reading, for me, is not merely to add titles and increase the yearly count of books read. The purpose of the Birthday Bookathon was to learn more and move beyond what I had already been reading – for instance, Rabindranath Tagore has been intentionally avoided for West Bengal because I have read a lot of his works; I had read Premchand’s Nirmala in English years ago, and hence read the original Hindi version now; P.L.Deshpande is a popular name in Marathi literature whom I have already read a lot from, causing me to opt for Shanta Shelke for Maharashtra. I also found books after I had finished reading from that particular state – reading will continue in tandem with the new goals I set for my birthday this year. Another observation was that most translated books tended to be fiction – I suppose it has to do with the popular notion that people prefer stories, and books are accordingly picked for translation.

For those interested in exploring Indian literature, this is the original link to the article I had written on my birthday last year. It includes books I had already read at the time, and also new ones from where I picked titles for the bookathon. If I come across anymore titles, I will keep updating this original blog-post as a handy guide to country specific books. (I had undertaken similar reading initiatives for South Africa and Australia in the past, but wasn’t blogging at the time.) In case you decide to take up this challenge too, happy ready and happy travelling! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Bookstore Visit – Bargain Book Hut

Bookworms possess unique skill sets to sniff out and identify bookstores anywhere. The weekend combined book shopping with running kit collections. Bargain Book Hut is a quaint book shop nestled in the bylanes of Kala Ghoda – a little distance away from Colaba, the venue for the expo of the upcoming Navy Half Marathon. Post picking up my running number bib and racer’s kit, I visited this niche outlet of the chain bookstore known for its heavily discounted books. The space is small (unlike the humongous Kitab Khana I had featured a few days ago), but the stock keeps changing frequently. The deals on box sets, children’s books, and hardcover books are the largest, making this store a must-visit for those looking to build a home library. They have numerous compilations and anthologies that make for good gifting items. The store does not allow photography – one can click pictures of the books, but they object to photography of the interiors and decor as a whole, and posing around and clicking selfies is a definite no-no. They take their reading seriously and patrons are expected to do the same. Books receive prime importance.

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The non-fiction section – There is a good range available in the cookery and health and fitness hardcovers.
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The children’s book section with special deals on the Hindu mythology genre, on account of the Diwali festival.
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A special section with offers on the classics – hardbound with gold embossed covers.
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My book stash, along with a 3D bookmark and the runner’s kit. They have numerous animal themed 3D bookmarks, with quotes specific to each animal. 

Bargain Book Hut is a unit of the Wilco Publishing House – the chain of concept bookstores having been designed to make books affordable to book lovers everywhere. There are special imports made available at discounted rates, causing titles selling out and new titles being introduced frequently. This isn’t one of those bookstores within an eatery, or with an accompanying café. It is not a huge space to sit around while you skim through books. And you’re not allowed to take pictures of anything else besides the books. If one is not obsessed with selfies and social gatherings while picking up books, this is the perfect place to spend some time alone purely with books as you browse the narrow aisles. If you find yourself in the far end of South Mumbai, give this one a visit.

Food Photography – Olive Bar & Kitchen

A friend from across the globe had a rushed weekend visit scheduled to my city. With his return flight taking off from here in a few hours time, we had planned an early dinner last Friday. Olive Bar & Kitchen in the Western suburbs opens at 8 pm, but they were more than ready to accommodate us at 7:30 pm when we mentioned about our friend’s flight at 1:30 am. We opted for the outdoor seating section – with white sand spread on the ground, cane chairs, low tables, string lights and glass bottles filled with lights hanging from trees in the compound, the outdoor section has a more casual and friendly vibe. Here’s a glimpse of what we ate:

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The bread platter with an assortment of butters.
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Hummus and falafel platter with grilled veggies and vegetable nuggets.
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Smoked tuna with prawn paste.
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Roast chicken with pickled oyster mushrooms and almond purée, and a sprinkling of almonds on top.
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Pepperoni pizza.
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Orange crème brûlée.

A pleasant evening spent discussing books, food, running, hiking, with engaging conversations accompanying the delectable meal in a wonderful ambience.

 

Being Officially Amazing

Today is Guinness World Records Day – the fourteenth year of the annual celebration which commemorates the 8th of November, when Guinness World Records became a bestselling book in 2004. The GWR Day aims to inspire people to discover their true potential and attempt record-breaking activities around the globe. It unites people across the planet from all walks of life, to work towards a common goal – to be officially amazing! And bask in how officially amazing you are, once you do break that record.

There are myriad ways to get involved in the day’s celebrations. One can attempt a Guinness World Records title – the website provides guidelines on how to apply, prepare for, and attempt your record-breaking initiative. If you already have a GWR title and are listed in the record books, share your activity with the world. Aside of the individual title holders, there are mass participation categories as well – the largest number of people attempting any given endeavor. Browse through the GWR website and see if you can gather a larger group to break someone else’s record.

I have three GWR certificates to my name:

The first was for the most people holding the abdominal plank position for a minute. That’s not too long for planking, but the challenge required every individual to stay up for a minute – which comprised 1,623 of us in the mass gathering. Any one who dropped before a minute was up, or started after the timer began, was omitted from the final count. We achieved our official record in the second attempt. (GWR gives you three attempts.) The event was organized by the sporting giant Puma, and only women were allowed to participate. Though the GWR certificate does not specify “women”, the aim of the record-breaking event was to highlight the importance of women’s health. Oh, and we received Puma tees too!

My second “officially amazing” certificate was for the largest gathering of people performing Zumba in capes. (Yes, you can aim for a record in just about anything. Provided the GWR officials authenticate your attempt as an actual record not achieved by anyone else before you.) The beverage company Tetley had organized this dance bonanza – a total of 1,335 people dancing Zumba for ninety minutes, with capes (so you feel like a superhero after breaking the record.) And we got tea here. Lots of it in various flavors!

The third record-breaking event I was part of was the largest drum circle. Organized by The Drum Cafe, the drumming festival had a large number of people playing the djembe in unison for about fifteen minutes. At a total count of 2,100 participants, the drumming company even provided drums to each of us. All we got here was the drum, which had to be returned post the event.

I haven’t thought about breaking any record in the individual category, but these mass participation events have been fun. It is always a pleasure to connect with like-minded people, and when a record is being attempted, you find even more from your tribe. Guinness has provided a list of fun activities to try out at home, using everyday household objects. If attempting official records is not your thing, you can test your skills on challenges provided on the GWR website. Follow the instructions on their page – there’s a leaderboard and everything so you can track your scores and compare how you fared against people from around the globe. Fun stuff!

The Light of Knowledge – Bookmarks for Diwali

Happy Diwali, everyone. To those who celebrate the festival of lights, I hope you have a great holiday season with the festivities. I made these sparkly bookmarks today, to go with the Diwali theme. Bookworms look for any occasion to celebrate books. And don’t books add light to our lives?  😀

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RDP Wednesday – HOLIDAY

It’s my day of the week for selecting the prompt. Join in, everyone. Send in an article or share pictures using the word of the day – holiday.

Happy middle-of-the-week, everyone! I have a day off and nothing to do. Except maybe put up this post.

Our prompt for today is “holiday” . How would you spend a day off – whether a planned or unplanned holiday? How does the holiday season keep you occupied. Do you prefer holidays for a few days, or are week/month long trips more your thing? Share with the blogging world what the day’s prompt means to you. Compose an article or send pictures using the word “holiday” – we look forward to your myriad interpretations of the word of the day.

You know the rules. Use “ragtag daily prompt” , “RDP” , and “holiday” as tags. Add “photo” if you’re sharing a picture, as specific tags make your posts more accessible to other bloggers. Pingback your posts to this page or copy-paste your links in the comment thread here. And while you’re around…

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Penguin Classics Book Festival

When a bibliophile is let loose in a bookstore, along with fellow book lovers, during a book festival, a great many things happen! The Penguin Classics Festival is an ongoing literary treat for readers around the country. Several venues in different cities are part of the month long festival that celebrates the classics – both originals and translated works. A wonderful opportunity to revisit the classics, and/or pick up books/authors one might have missed in the years gone by. I marched in on the first of November itself – it’s important to inaugurate bookish events. A few books were selected for myself and as gifts; another trip has been planned for this weekend. Here are a few pictures of bibliophilic endeavors.

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The upper section of the Kitab Khana bookstore in South Mumbai which is hosting the festival.
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The books below are not part of the festival; all Penguin books are upstairs.
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There’s always a book for everyone.
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A bookworm at home in a bookstore.
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Fellow readers should be recruited in all bookish pursuits.
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The loot, with apple tea and caramel cake. (The bookstore has a cafe hidden inside. Unless you’re a reader, you wouldn’t know about it. Our own little getaway to eat and read.)

 

Gifts Galore

November heralds the birthday season. And when you have family and friends scattered around the world, it’s that time of the year when parcels are expected from the mail all month long. This pretty pendant was one of the first gifts that arrived a few days ago. It’s important to catch those dreams. 🙂 ❤

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Fred & Rose – Book Review

Title – Fred & Rose

Author – Howard Sounes

Genre – Non-fiction, Crime

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Fact is truly stranger than fiction. I have spent the past month reading a number of horror and thriller books – a spook fest dedicated to Halloween. One of the books I read (Murderabilia – will review in due time), touched upon the theme of serial killers. The names Fred and Rose West led me to discover this book by Howard Sounes. The month ended with “Fred & Rose” , a true account of the serial killer couple who gained notoriety in British criminal history for murdering numerous women and children over a period of twenty five years; their own children being among the victims. Author Howard Sounes was a journalist at the time the crime was uncovered in 1994, and had reported for the Sunday Mirror newspaper in London under the headline “House of Horrors” – the title the case came to be known as (before the Josef Fritzl case of 2008). Cited to be among the most extraordinary murder cases that shocked even police authorities and medical experts, the skeletal remains of twelve young women and children were discovered – all tortured and killed by the West couple. Nine remains were discovered in the house the couple was living in – buried in the cellar, under the bathroom tiles, near the chimney – as life continued normally in the household. The remains of twelve corpses were identified; it is not known how many people Fred and Rose West killed in all during their murderous spree from the late sixties to the early nineties.

In “Fred & Rose” , Sounes has attempted to understand why so many people died in and around 25 Cromwell Street – the House of Horrors. The book begins back in time with the grandparents and parents of both Fred and Rose. A background into their individual childhoods helps us understand what motivated such violence and how they developed into people capable of such behavior. Both Fred and Rose were born to parents suffering from mental illnesses at various points in time, and were abused as children themselves, and didn’t see anything wrong in what they did to other people, including their own children. According to them, pedophilia was a part of family life – something they too went through growing up. (Their grown up children later said they loved their parents, and assumed the abuse was what happened in all families.) To the outside world, they appeared as any normal couple – cheerfully greeting people on the street, helping out neighbors with chores, providing accommodation to lodgers at cheap rates – they seemed to go out of their way to help others. 25 Cromwell Street was in the middle of the city. Numerous visitors went in and out of the house. And yet no one had an inkling of what was going on within.

The targets included hitchhikers, problem children from delinquent hostels, runaways – people whom no one might inquire about if they went missing. Fred and Rose would drive around town together, offering rides to hitchhikers. Sometimes they would take their children along too. Women who might have been suspicious about getting into a car with a single man, did not see any danger with a young woman and/or children alongside. Young women were invited to work as nannies for their children. They provided lodging at cheap rates affordable for poor students. The women who trusted them were abducted, tortured, raped, killed, cut into pieces, and buried within the floors of the house. Some of their own children too met with the same fate. (The ones who survived did so because they ran away.) Pregnant women had their bellies cut up because Fred wanted to check the gender of the babies. (Fetal remains were found next to the remains of the mothers.) The crimes went undetected for twenty five years. Schools didn’t check when a child stopped turning up for classes. Emergency units treated wounds without bothering to inform the police about abuse. Social services did not follow up on pregnant women who were registered under their care. Children who complained to neighbors were answered with, “They would never do something like that” . Lodgers who inquired about screams at night were told the children must have been having nightmares. Out of all the remains found over two decades later, only six women had been reported missing by their families. The rest said they thought their relatives had left home and didn’t want to be bothered. The House of Horrors case was as much about the sadism of Fred and Rose West, as it was about the failure of society as a whole.

The couple did not know the names of all their victims, and barely registered the faces of the ones they picked up at night. Remains were identified on the basis of dental implants and superimposition. Evidence of torture was identified on the basis of cracks in the bones, cords around decapitated heads, tape and fabric around skulls, nails stripped from fingers. There might have been many more victims whose bodies were never located. Before writing the book, Howard Sounes had broken the story and covered the murder trial of the West couple. In an age where the media often plays judge and jury, Sounes has presented the book as plain facts. Beginning from their own childhood, up to the lives of their surviving children as adults, we are provided a case study of a life in crime in forensic detail, showcasing a fascinating and frightening account at the same time. Sounes does not let his own emotions about the killer couple influence the reader, and urges us to read and reflect for ourselves. Whether one chooses to see Fred and Rose as victims themselves on account of their own abusive childhoods affecting their personalities and later behavioral traits, or one feels the punishment they received from the courts wasn’t enough for the depravity of their crimes, this book is a must read for the case details it provides. The discovery and unearthing of the skeletal remains, forensic identifications of the victims, the court trial, police interviews with the couple, media frenzy, people trying to make a quick buck by claiming to be former victims, actual victims and police detectives selling stories to newspapers and book publishers – Sounes has everything covered about the House of Horrors case. Depictions of torture are gory, but however squeamish one feels as a reader, one realizes that people actually went through the sadism of Fred and Rose. Not a read for the faint-hearted, but a book that deserves to be read as an ode to the victims who finally got justice over two decades after their disappearance and death. My rating is for Sounes’ presentation of facts and writing quality of the book. The content is absolutely heartbreaking.

Rating – 5/5