Lockdown Reading is a series where authors will enlist the books they are reading (or not) during this time. Previously, Annie Zaidi had detailed the books she has been trying to read, Rheea Mukherjee had revealed the one the book she is reading these days, and Namita Gokhale had given a glimpse of the way she spending time during lockdown. This week, Paro Anand, author and playwright shares the books she is reading and revisiting.
Finalllly, the pile of books on my bedside table is not a tottering mountain but a seemly, humble little hill. The stack had been growing since early January of 2019 when I was on a whirlwind of buying books and getting authors to sign them after attending one literary fest after another. And what a bounty. At a lit fest, I like to pop into some unusual sessions where authors I may never have read before are speaking. This happened the first time when I was at the gargantuan Jaipur Lit Fest. I had hoped to hear – who else – but Shashi Tharoor speaking. But the tent was overflowing (but natch) and my feet were hurting and I really, really needed to sit down.
Frankly, more in search of a seat than an interesting session, I found my way to where a Cambodian writer was speaking. I sat down, for the first minutes, preoccupied by my screaming feet. But something in the writer’s calm telling of a human tragedy soon made me forget my own discomfort. The reading and telling were stunning. It was a learning experience for me. Rather than always running to the rock star sessions, I always spend a little time at lit fests at a randomly selected one. I am almost always pleasantly surprised. I got my copy of that writer’s book and have enjoyed it – forgive me, though, it was some years ago and I don’t have a copy to get the title and author name correctly.
My point is only this, it’s sometimes important to taste a story that is out of one’s algorithm. An algorithm will always keep you within your own little loop. ‘If you liked this, you will also like this’….But what about an author whose words you’ve never tasted, a musician whose music has never visited your heart? And so, in bookstores, I often just pick up a book because I liked the blurb, or because the cover attracted me – yep, sorry, I do judge a book by its cover. Or because the writer is from a country that I’ve never read anything from before – like Nadia Hashimi’s One Half From the East from Afghanistan.
I personally, love haunting the Young Adult fiction shelves, and here are some of my favourites. There is Flyaway Boy by Jane D’Souza (Penguin RandomHouse) which is a huge, huge favourite and has remained on that pile of books next to my bed. I know I am going to have to revisit it. It’s a powerful book on not fitting in. A heavy subject, told lightly and gently. Devika Rangachari’s Queen of Ice and Nandhika Nandi’s Unbroken (both from Duckbill) are about young women who are empowered through incredible odds.
I have just read You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P by Alex Gino (Scholastic) which forces the reader to question their own prejudice and sensitivity to others. The gentle writings of Ranjit Lal are always a pleasure. There is almost an old-world genteelness to him which is becoming sadly increasingly rare. Owlet, Not Out (Speaking Tiger, Talking Cub), one of his recent ones is just lovely. Yes, that pile is shrinking. But I am also busy posting a weekly podcast called Literature in Action on HubHopper. Do give it a listen, if you can. I am on a fellowship by the Takshila Foundation, where I am actually being paid to write – and best of all, my work will come out in Hindi. And so I am working on a couple of books as I await the final edits for my next Speaking Tiger novel.
Though I do find that I am still deeply, deeply entrenched in one of my newer publications, Being Gandhi (HarperCollins) that took me a short time but a deep dive to write. It explores a raw wound that I went through many years ago and have never been able to write about until recently. It explores and empowers and asks young people to question. A book more relevant now than when I started to write it. A book that goes beyond Gandhi the man to his teachings and values.
But, for now, I am going to jump back to a real fun book by a real fun author – Gravepyres School for the Recently Deceased by Anita Roy (Red Panda, Westland). Now that sounds like a scream and a half, doesn’t it?
Have a Happy Quarantine.
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