I started an entry yesterday , actually a couple of entries (it’s probably the first time blogger bug!) about the books I bought while I have been in London and here it continues. Following are brief descriptions of the place I bought the book, why I felt a need to buy the book and where in my life I was when I bought it.
4. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain, Plain Tales of the British Raj, Animal Farm – As it is often said ‘when it rains it pours!’
So I had moved out of the student halls into a friend’s room while I was house hunting. She used to volunteer at a petting farm and soon I joined her as well. We used to meet at the farm on Saturdays and help sell eggs and a few farm produce, especially the grains that kids used to feed the goats. On one such Saturday the manager of the farm organised a sale of books that were given to the farm by visitors and neighbours so that they could be sold to raise funds for the farm. I rummaged through the mountains of books and finally chose these to be my final selection.
By now I had already moved to my new home. It was a room in a house in Harrow. It was on a hilly road and far away from the bustle of the city. It was a perfect suburb but suburbia was new to me. Back home in India I stayed in busy roads close to the city centre and this was the case while at University in London too. So the silence was a bit too much. So weekends and time helping out in the farm were looked forward to eagerly.
That Saturday was also extra special because after I finished choosing the books I wanted I helped to man the tables for a bit. A lady came by and we started talking and I told her about how I really want to improve my writing and explore possibilities to work and learn in the UK, She stayed for a while and told me to read The Guardian and The Economist to get an idea of good writing and we went onto to talking about chasing after your dreams. It was a wonderful afternoon to get to talk to someone about your fears, a complete stranger, during a book sale!
It was and still is a phase, the preference to read about true stories, memoirs, biographies – stories that are inspirational and dreamy. Again, a very effective coping mechanism. Although I began with fiction as a child I have noticed that I tend to navigate towards true stories. I think it is because I love listening to other’s adventures and imagine how they live, the adventures and challenges they have been through. I find it inspiring. Hence I chose the books I did that day.
They are also special because the books help me remember the manager of the farm and a friend Barry.Was great having met you Mr B and hope you are well where ever you are now!
5. The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh- I soon found the local library and figured it would be better to burrow books rather than buying as I was soon becoming challenged for space in my tiny box room. This book was written with such a profound personal touch that it reminded me of times when my mother would tell me stories of her childhood. Once I started reading the book I did not want to stop reading. It had a softness to it that I have not yet experienced in book written by other South Asian authors. And now I suddenly developed a fondness to read about colonial India. It is scary to think that I relate to these stories when in the ideal world, if things have changed at all I should have been horrified and shocked at what I was reading. The social unrest, the violence and poverty. But I didn’t. Rather it is very disappointing to think that I related to every word in the book and in some instance remember times when I experienced or witnessed some of the prejudices mentioned in the books. All in all it served its purpose. It kept me occupied and the familiar tone of story telling made me miss home a little less.
6. Freedom At Midnight, Collin and Lappier – I was lucky. After a few months in my new home in Harrow and one unforgettable winter as a waitress, unforgettable in the negative, I got a job as a ‘Conference Coordinator’. It was not my dream job but for the meantime it helped me live in the city. Also, the office space was an extension of my boss’s house and so I often had their pet cat for company. Her name is Pushkin and she is the first pet I ever had! My boss came to England soon after independence and we had many interesting afternoon conversations of his childhood in Kolkata and how he came to study at the LSE in England and of his boat journey to the country. This was perfect, especially as I was in a very colonial mood, reading wise. Although the work was not the most interesting set of tasks to do I had terrific company and that more than made up for the bad days. My desk was in a clean room and attached to the wall in front was a book shelf. It had books on social policy authored by professors and professionals who worked, were working or graduated from the LSE. You see, for my boss LSE is more than his Alma Mater. She is the reason for his coming to the UK, the reason why he prospered as an independent consultant, to say that the LSE is why he stayed on in the UK may not be too far fetched. Hence the LSE centric book collection. And among those books I spotted this and burrowed it for a few weeks.
It is the story of India’s partition, its trials and tribulations. My favourite part of the story is about an old Sikh man who rescued a muslim girl, fathered her child and went to reunite the child with her mother in Pakistan. Obviously it was written much more articulately but among pages and pages of nothing but stories and accounts of killing, this story was a brief respite.
I was getting over the colonial India phase and wanted to read about the lives of people in other countries, their customs, just day to day living.
I was beginning to like living in Harrow and its pace. Staying far away from the city made me take more initiative in taking advantage of all that London has to offer with a lot more energy. I can say that because now, after moving to a better connected location I haven’t really spent my weekends attending shows or musicals or exhibitions as frequently. I have settled into this lull, I realised I thrive when in a difficult situation. If I am surrounded by convenience I am less likely to get out there and do something. Rather I do nothing.
So one afternoon when I was living in Harrow I was walking past the city centre (a mall) and caught site of a book store. It was the kind of bookstore that sold old magazines, random children’s art and craft books, stationery and a few second hand books. And I began doing something that I enjoy doing, rummaging through piles and shelfs in a book store. And then I find ‘ In The Heart of the Sea’ by Nathaniel Philbrick. Nathaniel is a historian and this was the true story that inspired Moby Dick. I was in true story, life’s journeys mode and this book seemed like gold. I wanted to be told the story of some one else’s adventure so that I could then appreciate my own.
7. ‘ In The Heart of the Sea’ by Nathaniel Philbrick – When I first picked up the book I was reminded of reading Moby Dick eons ago. I remember the book cover. It was a hard copy and the cover interested me more than the book!
This was a wonderful book. It talks about rules, explores the human psyche, shows you what a good leader is made up of, describes how the ocean influenced the lives lived on land and how it all changed. When I started reading the book I was volunteering for a charity called T.E.A.C.H Africa and my team mate was a teacher who is also an outdoors adventure addict. He had previously read the book and mentioned to me that many instances in the story will point you towards understanding leadership. I paid careful attention to what I was reading and yes I found many of those instances.
The story got me thinking of how one’s character can effect the kind of leader you are or become. Yes, this is often talked about but this book provided me the right context. A complex turn of events but the moral of the story is simple and accessible to all.
I often buy books like they are vegetables, usually a lot more than just one. So on the same afternoon I crossed over from a tiny privately owned second hand book/magazine/paper shop into the retailer’s world – Waterstone.
8. Nine Lives, William Dalrymple – When I was in 5th grade – 6th grade I had the best History teacher a student could have. She passionately loved her subject or to me it seemed and still seems like she did because unlike the other teachers of the subject we had later she never told us to open the text book and start reading from page number sixty. We didn’t have to bring our text book to school if we had her class. All we had to do was listen because today she was going to tell us a story. The fact that this method worked is because I can still describe the city plan of a Mohenjodaro and Harappan settlement and in my mind’s eye can still see the pictures of the toys and pots that were unearthed at the sites. And so I love History, I love learning about cultures.
After reading Nine Lives I realised perhaps home is a good place to start. I finished the book wondering how strange it was that here was a historian so in love with India, who lives in India and works on all things Indian and here I was trying my best to get out and completely oblivious to the opportunities India has for me. I think I still think the same of the country but with a slight difference. The opportunities I understand I will have to make and may be a little less obvious than in London, its the pessimism that has changed. Now I have a list of things to see and experience once I am back thanks to the stories in Nine Lives!
9. The God of Small Things – I tell myself I want to learn of people’s lives outside of my own culture but at that time I was still being drawn to stories from places I was already familiar with. I still have a lot to learn of life in India but its ‘familiar’ territory. Also, I often tell friends I don’t like reading books that are very popular. I like reading those that are not ‘well marketed’. But for some strange reason that day I bought this book. I read the first few pages/chapters, found it too depressing and realised that my time to read is not now. In the book shelf it stands now until I feel I am in the right place to read it.
I shall always remember London for its Cafes and book stores. Everyone here hates the weather. It is often said that talking about the weather is a good conversation starter if you find yourself silent with company. I love the weather. The rain, the chill, the greyness, personally to me help me appreciate my cuppa and the book. I have always been one to enjoy reading when it is pouring outside. In India as well as here this has always been the case.
My friend moved to South Kensington. A wonder filled place. The day I helped her move in we were strolling along, exploring the area when we came across the shop! Foxed Books. And outside the shop were small shelves full of books being sold for a pound each. This is very common in book stores in London and my treasury trove.
To be continued