I Write Like I Cook

My first cooking lesson perhaps started when I was six, because I hung around my grandmother, sitting on the kitchen counter, listening to her tell stories from her past, smelling the foods she was making. She taught me how to cook without tasting – just with the smells.

When I was ten, I really had to cook. A full family meal. I learnt from my Mum who stood outside the kitchen giving me instructions as I nervously mixed and stirred and listening to the number of times the pressure cooker hissed. My mum and my her mother-in-law, my grandmother, didn’t measure any of the spices. Everything was intuitive – a pinch or a handful or just the right quantity. There was no recipe to follow. Nothing was written down. All the cooking was passed down by practice. If I hadn’t spent time in the kitchen arguing over whether the salt went first or the spices, I would have never learnt.

Until I was in my teens, I knew only the regional cuisine I was brought up on. In India every time you crossed a 100 KM you crossed a cuisine line. I grew up in the state of Tamil Nadu, but Tamil Nadu itself has tens of cuisines, all regional, and many passed down from 2000 years ago.


When my interest in cooking got stronger, I started experimenting with other Indian cuisines. I tried Gujarati food from the west, Punjabi food from the north, Kerala food from the south-west, street food from Mumbai. All vegetarian, and all adapted. I don’t think I ever cooked anything that I didn’t change a bit here and there. Even to my mum’s recipe. In fact, some family recipes have been irrevocably changed and my dad thinks it’s for the good.

As I left the country in late 20s, and moved to Singapore, I remained an Indian foodie. I still experimented – but only with Indian food. foodcourtThe vast array of food courts in Singapore didn’t tempt me one bit – primarily because they did not fathom how anyone could be vegetarian for 7 days a week, 365 days a year and definitely on the extra day in a leap year too.

But I did venture slowly into international food – not necessarily always authentic, but an adventure nevertheless. I started travelling to the west around this time and had to quickly find alternatives to Indian food that didn’t contain egg or fish or meat of any kind. Italian, Greek and some Mexican if you knew the difference between con and san.

Moving to the UK 11 years ago, introduced me to the vast array of supermarket shelves. I walked around the aisles (I still do this in mega big food stores), looking at strange names – Paprika, Sun-dried tomato paste, Rosemary, Thyme, Pesto, Udon noodles and such.westernherbs

I not only learnt to appreciate world cuisine, I wanted to experiment, learn and cook things I liked. My philosophy about food is – learn to cook what you love to eat. That way I never have to wait for someone to cook, or find a restaurant.

Experimenting with new spices from Europe and South America taught me new flavours, new smells, new combinations. I cooked a lot of Mexican food – like vegetarian chili, burritos, tacos. I cooked Italian. I love pasta more than pizza for some reason. And some British food – especially crumbles and pies.
For a while I kept my two interests separate – I cooked Indian food the Indian way and the world cuisine as per downloaded recipes. Then slowly I started mixing and matching. The more confident I got with the spices, the more I experimented.

I started taking traditional Indian recipes and adding western ingredients into it. And voila! These turned out to be my signature dishes. Those that my mum and my sister want the recipes for. Although it still frustrates my sister when I say – just a pinch of this and a trickle of that.

Then I took the western dishes I loved – especially the pasta and started adding Indian ingredients into it. My brother-in-law freaked out. He politely asked me to cook Indian the next time he visited – because he is an authentic foodie and my mixing up food cultures troubled him and kept him awake at night. I’m getting hungry thinking about so much food.

But the point is, I’ve recently realized that my writing has also taken a similar journey and the parallels were obvious when I looked.

When I had started out writing, of course I wrote as per the rules. I didn’t change anything, I didn’t modify anything. Not just from a craft point of view, but also from content – edicts like if you’re a girl, these are the kind of things you wrote about. What was not allowed, I wrote in diaries. I sometimes regret that I destroyed all my diaries before I left India – they contained raw emotions, anger, passion, sorrow, frustration and so much truth. Perhaps as a grown-up I would cringe at my teenage diaries. But nevertheless they would have been more authentic than the stuff I showed others.

I don’t think I ever thought I’d write for publication until I left India. I sent in poems and essays to competitions and magazines.newsletter storytellingprize The kernel of a writer was there. I wanted others to read my stuff. I secretly left my writing where people could see them. I loved it when I won prizes and things got accepted. But never in a million years, a lower middle-class girl could aspire to focus on writing and not a career.
The next stage of my writing started when I reached Singapore. I started writing down my stories on paper. By now the Internet had reached the html stages and I could Ask Jeeves! (remember that?). This was the time when Yahoo was still god and Google hadn’t been born yet.

I read lots and lots of books – craft books and fiction. I wrote every day. I sent out stuff every week. Many returned, one or two found their place. At this time, I wasn’t sure what type of writer I was – as much as I didn’t know what food I loved other than Indian. I wrote business articles that were published in the national newspaper. I wrote inspirational essays; I wrote short story and the first one was published in the Singapore Airlines magazine. I was experimenting in the kitchen and in my notebook.singaporeair

When I settled on children’s writing, I knew why. My imagination was too bizarre and weird for grownups. I wanted wishing chairs, my own faraway tree and witches and goblins and magic. I settled down into writing children’s fiction the same time I settled into my Indian cooking. I had experimented, I had figured it out and I was happy where I was.

When I came to the UK, it was a completely different ball game. I bumped into serious talent and I quickly realized I had to up my game. But it took a long time to understand how.

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As with my cooking, and experimentation with western cuisines, I realized there was a perception that I had to figure out. Indian food had to be a certain thing – curry. People thought they knew what authentic curry was and they didn’t want an Indian telling them how it should be. It was the same in the stories I wrote. I was told what I should be writing or what was authentic. And when I experimented with western cuisine, and western plots, stories, characters, that didn’t go down well either.

Like in my cooking, I realised my authentic experience was not in the popular experience. I wasn’t sure if I had to write only Indian stories that matched the accepted norm, would I be “exploiting” my heritage just to get published. It was like cooking “curry” for a dinner party instead of cooking my authentic south Indian food. I had to connect to India in every story.


Because for many gatekeepers, my “western” stories were like being invited to an Indian home and being served fish and chips. They had come expecting Sag Aloo and Naans.
I switched gears very slowly. Many writing workshops later, many retreats, lectures, random courses, tens of SCBWI events later, I was figuring myself out. This was not just a writer’s journey. I had to figure out my identity – I had become a British citizen but I wasn’t born here. I had to deal with the conflict of my identity as a person and as a writer.

Less than half a decade ago, the recipe started to take shape. I could smell the spices, I could figure out the pinch and the trickle. I did exactly the same in the kitchen and in my writing – I blended my experiences in. I’m different and I am one. I’m a contradiction and I’m ambiguous.

Like the brinjal fry (brinjal is aubergine, just in case you were wondering), I made with my mum’s recipe modified with sun-dried tomato paste, I mixed the ingredients in the writing. I started figuring out how I could bring an authentic story to a western audience. I think I’m still figuring it out. Like how I still go to explore spice shelves in supermarkets, to find the ingredient that I could add to my mother’s spice box, I’m constantly learning how to blend my experience growing up in India with my world citizenship.

Sometimes the spice combinations don’t work. Sometimes they blow my taste buds and it becomes a classic recipe. Same way, some stories just work. Some struggle and stay inside my notebooks.

As I said, I cook the same way I write. I’m richer for the new spices I’ve learnt to use. I’m one person with multiple experiences. What’s authentic to me would never be authentic to my next-door neighbour in India who grew up right next to me. We had similar experiences and different ones. Who is to say which one is more authentic?

There is no single story to humanity. All our stories are universal and unique at the same time.
So next time you visit me, ask for some authentic Indian food and don’t gasp when you don’t see the curry takeaway staples on it. As for the stories, I can only hope I stay true to my characters and spin a good yarn. Like with food, the writer or the cook is only part of the experience. They have to be completed by a reader or a guest. Come and have a taste. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Happy Birthday Mr Dahl

Yesterday was Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. His estate is celebrating it worldwide with movies, jars with hedgehogs and such and hopefully more reading too.


I came to Dahl’s books much later in life after I moved to England in 2006 – and I wish I had known about his books when I was growing up. I grew up with Enid Blyton’s books. The Magic Faraway tree made me imagine and inspired my first made up oral story. But in many ways they were still not as subversive as Dahl’s books. I wish I could have read the wacky and crazy anti-establishment books like The Twits or Matilda or Fantastic Mr Fox or even The Enormous Crocodile.

As a kid I flew under the radar mostly, unnoticed and invisible, except for a few verbal outbursts and once in a while doing some unexpected things that I must admit my mum let me do and my dad never knew about. Before you go imagining anything wild like crawling under the neighbour’s fence (we had a wall) or exploring ancient caves (we lived in a city), it wasn’t anything like that.


At 6 I switched my choice of 2nd language at school. We had to study at least two Indian languages in school – one main and one like an elective but at Y1. I went into my Y1 class for the first day and switched my languages to opposite of what was filled in my admission form. I wrote a radio song at 8; wrote poems and essays and went on stage along with our neighbours until we were 15. We didn’t know it was anything unusual.

Apart from these approved extra curricular all I did was read and follow rules. I didn’t want to break rules or crockery if I can manage it although I was thin as a blade of grass and clumsy like a clown. Who knew in the future I would be fat and go to clown classes.

But I was a serious kid – worried about orphans in the SOS village, wrote passionate (but bad) poetry, raised money for my mum’s charity, gathered friends to publish a neighbourhood newspaper and didn’t get jokes that people made about me all the time. My coping mechanism was reading and writing. What I read expanded my imagination. I dreamt up elaborate situations in my head and had an entirely new family in my head (Ssh! My real family doesn’t know still). I was shy, easily intimidated and in awe of style and fashion and girls who could be confident. I am still like that – I just have learnt how to hide it better.

So the Enid Blyton books and Nancy Drew stories were all about following rules anyway and my stories were like that – should I say – are like that. I wrote quiet and serious stories and even if I have managed to put some funny bits, my stories are not yet wild and absurd. When I met Andy Stanton a few years ago to join the course he was going to teach at Faber – that’s what I told him – I want to learn to let loose – make my stories jump out of bins and tins, sing loudly at traffic lights and hop around the tube station with a mask. He just smiled. Perhaps he wondered if that could ever be taught or learnt. But he was immensely supportive during the course.

When I read amazingly absurd stories I wonder – would reading Dahl as a kid have helped? I think it would have. It would have made me a different person in the head and in real life too. Since 2006, I have managed to read all of Dahl mostly including his short stories and biography and I wish I could have immersed in his world as a kid. Today with my nephew I am getting the reputation of CRAZY AUNT – he is a serious 4 year old who asks me not to be silly when I dance like a clown and make faces. I am going to put Dahl into his hands as soon as he can read on his own and get him to soak up the crazy wacky subversive world. Life is too serious for us to take it seriously. I’ve changed over the years; I know I can be whatever I want to be. But I wish I could have known that when I was 6 or 7 or 8.

I’ve changed since writing for children and still changing. Every children’s book I read, opens up my imagination and shows me more possibilities and I forget I’m a grownup. I still read children’s books for pleasure and I would rather be inside the pages of a funny Roald Dahl than look up and see President Trump (or our PM for that matter) on the telly. Sometimes I wonder what he would happen if we let some of Dahl’s characters loose on him. That’d make a great movie.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Mr Dahl. Your books are needed for every child to take refuge in, forget whatever the dire situation they are in and revel in the anarchy. Thank you to everyone who edited and published the books, to Quentin Blake who gave us the pictures. I’m off to find a crazy villain for my own stories.

Looking Back at 2015


The year is almost over and as I scan my timeline for 2015 on social media and at the blogs I wrote this year – I must admit it has been a full year in more ways than one.

2015 started with a bang. Anansi’s New Web was accepted by OUP Pakistan after a long wait. The story had taken 7 years from creation to acceptance and the news came on New Year’s Day. Read about it here.

pongal_007Mid-January is Harvest festival in India and Farmer Falgu visited many homes during this festive period. Watch this space in 2016 for a story about how such celebrations led to Farmer Falgu – Book 4.


Recommended by the eminent Jan Blake, CLPE invited me to tell stories in February. I had a blast telling stories from India to children from various schools. Look at the photos here.

11021052_818744094884625_3675444683418509908_n2015 was my first World Book Day as an author. I did a whopping 17 school visits in 6 weeks – across many parts of England. I told stories, made up stories with the children and introduced Farmer Falgu and Veera to many children. Some glimpses captured on camera here.

Clever camel8x150Clever Camel (illustrated by Eugene Ruble) was published by Guardian Angel Publishing in July. Cheeky camel did a round of visits in Bexley and Slade Green community libraries in the summer.

I visited two libraries and a school in India via Skype this year. Miraculously the technology worked and we had roaring fun. The stories that we created during such sessions are available to read here.

Farmer Falgu and I also managed a Google Hangout session with 3 homes directly connected to me and we read the stories with the parents and children. Technology here was a bit on the rough side – something to work out for 2016. Find out more about our tele-story sessions here.

Falgu_1_FrenchCover falgu-2-japan-web2015 also marked new milestones for Farmer Falgu. He got his passport stamped in France and Japan. Find out more about these books here. The story of Farmer Falgu’s journey across continents is told here.

2015 also saw signing of new contracts for a number of books.

adollopofgheeI signed with Walker Books for a second title to tell more stories about Veera and Suku, which is due out in 2016. Watch this space.

Farmer Falgu 3&4 are also in the making and hopefully available to buy in 2016 as well. Karadi Tales also commissioned a new title Varsha’s Varanasi (illustrated by Soumitra Ranade) which is in final stages of production now and due to be out in 2016 as well.

cover_chitraScholastic India signed me up for 3 titles of reading and activity book based on my favourite Panchatantra stories (illustrated by Nimisha Saikia). Those would be out in 2016 as well. Find out more about this here.

pattan_coverTo top it all my first picture book in the UK – Pattan’s Pumpkin was commissioned, illustrated and ready for Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. The amazing Frane Lessac and I hit it off big time and we are hoping to have a blast with Otter-Barry Books. Expect some Indian pumpkin recipes too to mark the book’s release.

All of us in our group sans Jay at the Christmas lunch in a nearby pizzeria

I must also reveal to those who don’t know already that I finally took the plunge and signed up to do my Masters in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. With the first module under my belt, I am excited to be on this journey to push the boundaries of my writing, discover my strengths and fix my weaknesses. I have amazing tutors and fabulous classmates and this is a dream come true in so many ways. Yes it is tough to juggle life with work and writing and a Masters degree. But that’s the joy of it – life is full of happy challenges, and no minute is wasted.

IMG_2247I should also mention that before my Masters started, I snuck in a short course of writing poetry for children with Roger McGough and Rachel Rooney at Arvon. What a fab week it was.

In 2015 I also visited three other schools in the second part of the year – each one different and fun in so many ways. From down the road in Shadwell to all the way in Lancashire (thinking of everyone there during the floods), I met with so many kids and brought Farmer Falgu and Gola and Balu to them from faraway India.

Through the year, I have become more conscious of diversity in children’s publishing in the UK, discussed Indian books in detail with various professionals in India and finding my voice as a BAME writer (or should I say a writer from multiple heritages). Read some of those interviews here. As part of this conscious effort, I also created a list of South Asian books for children – Saffron Stories.

In 2015 I launched the Kids Zone site for all things kids – activities, puzzles, recipes – all based on my books. All resources are free. Get them here.

Now it is nearing 2016. It’s been a busy year – writing, discovering, learning, teaching, travelling and meeting friends. I have made new friends and renewed connections with many old friends. I often think of myself as the people collector and I am glad my collection has grown both on Facebook and in real life.friends

I travelled with my parents to 6 towns in South India to discover the places my father lived as a boy and some places I lived as a child.

And with all this going on – I have read over 50 books this year and I still haven’t dented my ever-toppling tower of books to read.

In the last week of 2015, here I am in India, committed for two more events. I visited my favourite haunt in Chennai – Just Books Anna Nagar (27th December) to do a talk and sign books. It was a roaring success (even if I say so myself). I am reading a book to Karadi Tales team on the 31st December – a perfect round-off for a perfect year.

What would 2016 bring? What am I wishing for?

Well the list is long as usual and this is just for my writing life. My wish-list is usually my to-do list too – I believe in making things happen on my own. luck-quoteHowever there are some things only luck and fate can bring. So I have one wish for Santa (right at the end….)

  • I want more time to read the ever-toppling mountain of amazing books.
  • Of course more time to write and experiment with words and stories.
  • I want to take the time to fill the well – be inspired, be open to experiences of all sorts and let loose my imagination.
  • My MA would be in full swing and I would start on my final manuscript. I could use all the help and energy I can get to make this the best it could be.

christmas-296381_960_720And Santa if you’re listening, I wish for an Amazing Agent who would take me on and believe in me as a writer, so that I could write full-time.

I wish every one of you – friends – writers and illustrators, editors and publishers, readers, parents of readers, librarians, teachers – A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year!

What Good Books Do

Learning Indian history when growing up was like eating an Indian meal – the life you live now is the rice in the middle and you have these little cups on the side with lots of little offerings – never a lot, and never in depth.


There were two choices to learn about history – school books and comics by Amar Chitra Katha. I think ACK did a better job of telling us stories that happened in history right from the pre-Islamic reign until perhaps the Independence movement, the freedom from the British Raj.


In school you learnt them for exams, nothing big in particular. To be really candid, I remember a few things from then, not a lot. It is amazing how like in the US I suppose, history was more inward looking. So a lot about Indian history, but don’t think we focused on the World Wars as Europeans do (or perhaps the British did).


It is not embedded into the psyche of the people as much – we don’t commemorate the wars, we don’t have war museums (I’m sure they are under-funded, if they exist) and we don’t have fiction set in the wars as much. People are more preoccupied with what’s going on today – ie, history is always in the making. That does lead to a level of unhinged anchors – because many of us don’t realize the price our ancestors paid for this disruptive democracy we have.

The one thing I remember from studying Indian History in school was the Sepoy Mutiny – what we call the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The year stuck in my head and I have never forgotten the courage and the calamity.

The rest I read from story books – rather non-fiction told in comic strips by ACK. (they are still available, if you want your kids to find out more about Indian history).

Some people stuck in my mind and they became part of the moral fabric of what I was made of eventually. I still quote them and more importantly weigh my decisions in the light of their lives.

Jhansi Rani Lakshmi Bai Rani_of_jhansiShe was a story told over and over and to a young girl that’s a fiercely brilliant role model. My parents surely regretted it when I was a teenager fighting against all sorts of oppression – including staying late, refusing to do chores and getting arranged to be married. But Jhansi Rani taught me if you don’t believe in it, don’t do it. If you believe in it, fight for it. She was part of the Sepoy Mutiny too.

Swami_Vivekananda-1893-09-signedSwami Vivekananda – the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, the educated socialist who can articulate his thoughts really well. He preached equality, he preached religious acceptance. His words stuck in mind and I still think about it when I am in a situation where I might be unfair to someone – I’m paraphrasing him – but he said – Tolerance is not good enough. Acceptance is what you are obliged to. Here is the speech he gave in Chicago in 1893. Is it relevant today still? Duh!

This is what I got out of it – living in a caste-based society as a teenager. I had to evaluate every day in the light of this teaching – because life in India is not really fair to everyone (just like anywhere in this world).

Tolerance smacks of supremacy. You have to accept it because every religion has a place in this world – because it is one person’s spiritual journey. So there’s no question of one tolerating the other – you have to accept it.

And I think that’s one of the basic principles that have made me a global citizen today and perhaps even a storyteller who loves stories from all over the world.


Poet Subramanya Bharathi – this is an interesting connection for me. I read his poetry as a child. He wrote about women’s education, women’s right to walk tall and conquer the world. He asked women not to walk with their eyes to the ground but stare at the world ahead of them. He lived in the same city as me (sadly a few decades earlier). He was a militant type of poet – up in arms about any type of oppression. One of the reasons I read poetry was because I was attracted to his. I won a poetry prize in school and the prize was a collection of his poems and I still have it and treasure it.

More so, I was inspired by someone who believed women can rise up and change the world. Imagine the head-banging my parents went through as I digested these teachings and put them into practice. I argued about restrictions on clothes, about going out, about whether I can have boys as friends. If the poet knew about me , he would have been chuckling in heaven.


netajiNetaji Subhash Chandra Bose – Bose in India does not mean the wonderful speaker system named after another Indian Bose. Bose in India is Netaji. He was the militant double of the non-violent leader Gandhi. He had a different attitude to the British Raj and his was fighting against them. Of course he made some opportunistic choices and did not succeed and did not see India get freedom – but he did make connections with the Atlee and the labour party before he died, asking for Complete Independence.

Until Bose repeatedly argued for it, the Indian National Congress was fighting only for a dominion government – we will be British, but let’s rule ourselves. But Bose argued for a complete severance with the British. Eventually the mainstream politicians including Gandhi and Nehru adopted it too. JAI HIND, which is the national slogan of most Indians and the Indian Army was coined by Bose.

A lot of what I’m writing is from memory. I looked up a few things to see if I was making it up or remembering it wrong. But otherwise the impressions of those leaders are purely from my emotional fabric.

Here is a timeline showing how their paths might have crossed or not.


So why am I writing about this now? What brought on a flashback into India’s history. Well, what else? I read a book. Yeah, I do that a lot.

Anyway, I read this book that I bought a year or so ago, on the recommendation of a colleague at work. She loved it and she said I would like it too and it is called Elephant Moon.


I read a lot of fiction set in India, especially the wonderful Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss, a Man-Booker prize winner), Arvind Adiga who won for The White Tiger and books written by my writer friends in India. I’ve read V S Naipaul, Ruskin Bond and so many more.

To be honest, I don’t read lots of Indian books written by non-Indians simply because I might not agree with the perspectives. It is a completely different lens. Of course that is not to say they are not great writers or their viewpoint is wrong – but for me, it is their version of India and perhaps being born in India, I prefer an Indian lens – you don’t see things I would see or vice versa.

Does that make me less open? Am I not seeing the world from another perspective? No, I have always seen the world from a British or American perspective because we grew up with foreign books mostly. If not for ACK, I wouldn’t have known much about India and would have learnt a lot more about English villages and cream tea.

As an adult, as someone living outside India for the last 16 years, I understand the different viewpoints and I can see the layer of colonial dust in the language even today when a British person would write about an Indian theme.

However I need to add quickly I understand the right / need for British view on India – they too lived in India. Many left behind legacies, families and more. Many stayed back. They had a different lifestyle I’m sure, a different viewing platform – we have a shared history for the duration of the Raj and a bit before and a bit after. It is good to hear the stories British want to tell about their time in India.

And now I live here and I’m technically British-Asian and understand the lens of the British better. As a child when I read a book about India, I did not check if the author was Indian or British. Now I do. But when I read them, I didn’t understand perhaps the tone or the pre-existing position of their elevated view. Now I do.

Anyway, I digress. I read this book about a British schoolteacher braving the jungles of Burma to enter India during the last few years of the colonial rule and of course when Japan attacked Burma.

A beautifully written book. The language was exquisite and evocative. There is a lot of voluntary admission that the British left too early and their mistakes during this time. (Tongue in cheek, I’m sure that’s all true).

But the axis to the plot was Netaji Bose. Although a lot of ifs and buts were added, to me the book seemed to call Bose a Fascist. It retracts and backtracks and repeats it – perhaps I have to read it again to see if it was as strong as I felt. Or did it touch an Indian nerve, a nerve I didn’t realise was sensitive?

what is this

As a child who grew up revering Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, not remembering his association with the Japanese and the Germans at that time, it came as a shock to me. As far as I was concerned Bose fought against the British, anyway he can. His #1 target was British and anything else was fair game.

This led me to search for answers. See this is what good books must do. This book first made me vehemently refute what the author was saying. Then I wanted to find out more. I read more and I have a movie I want to watch about Bose.


From what I found out over the last two days, of course Bose associated with the Japs and the Germans – but he also met with the Labour leaders like Clement Atlee. (the conservatives refused to meet with him.) He wanted the British out of India – pure and simple. So he met with whoever would help him – and in that adventure ended up getting help from the wrong side of the fence. History also says he realized his mistake and tried to come back – but again with the help of the wrong side.

Perhaps it is the Karma we all Hindus believe in or the ill-will that was sent his way, his plane crashed and he was killed. (Or so we think… the conspiracy theories abound and only this week some 70 year old documents have been released and it opens the debate about Bose and his presumed death).

Here is a documentary about his life.


Bose like me believed in the Gita – the Hindu holy scripture. I believe in many of the tenets in it – the more spiritual ones. One says – Do your duty, be detached from the outcome.

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि

Perhaps that’s what Bose did – he saw his duty as liberating India from the British – he did not expect any rewards in return. Whether everyone approved of his methods – perhaps not. But there is no one way to peel an onion or drive out colonial masters, I suppose. Sometimes the price you pay is bigger than what you had imagined or perhaps the not the price you wanted to pay. But it is easy to point fingers in retrospect and I am proud that he had the courage to step out of line with Gandhi and do it his own way.

So I thank this book for bringing me closer to the truths in my heart, to making me search for things I had forgotten and of course now rekindled my love for Indian history – without intending to.

Good books can do that to you. Keep reading.

*I'm still reading and researching this background of Bose. These videos I've quoted here are widely watched - but I cannot claim anything about their authenticity or accuracy of their research. 

Books in My Life

My reading list is growing. With new prize longlists and shortlists and books of friends, books from India, books that I read long ago that I want to read again, books I want to learn from – so many books.

I’ve got an accumulated stack of books that have been signed for me – friends, eminent friends and celebrity authors (not the kind of celebrity authors who were celebrities before they wrote a book, the kind that are celebrity to me because they write amazing books.)

So I decided I have to organise my reading, keep track of what I’m reading, perhaps recommend some books to others and I looked around for a reading journal. There are a few available in the stationery section. But I didn’t fancy giving up my reading time to update my entire history of reading and my current TO-READ list.

51VYq3bp4kL__SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Then I looked for online journals – to keep track of the books. I checked one called LibraryThing – but didn’t like it as much and they also charge after 200 books. Then of course I had a Shelfari account because they are part of Amazon and I had a GoodReads account. Choices are good that we can choose what we want. But they force you to try them out and choose – takes longer to decide.

But while researching this – I found an useful article about other book related sites and I’ve fallen in love with BookLikes. I think BookLikes is great for librarians, classroom book blogs and personal book blogs too. But as in life and in this post, I digress. For the purpose of what I came to tell you, I’ll keep it to GoodReads. I’ll be telling you all about my BookLikes adventure soon.

At this moment I’m still on GoodReads and I uploaded my entire list of books – To Read, Already Read to GoodReads. Because I uploaded 8 to 10 years worth of reading history – GoodReads assumed I had read all of them in 2015. I wish!

Just like I’m obsessed about front-facing shampoo bottles, order of keys in my keyrings, wearing matching jewelry and  such, I’m also obsessed about being honest about the “Date I finished Reading” on every book.

So that’s a lot of books to update. But I started on it bravely. As I went down the list thinking about when I would have read it – it evoked memories, emotions and emotional memories.

As I read down the list of books to mark their date, my past began to unfold in the form of a book list. I could make out the patterns of my emotional life, what happened when along with the dates for the books.

  • Oh I read that one when I moved into my new flat
  • That one was when I was sad with a breakup and wanted a Pick me Up
  • This one was during the course I did with Andy Stanton at Faber

I couldn’t believe how these books have been transplated into my memory along with life-changing events.

I remember, a few years ago, giving up writing for 6 months due to one of those yo-yo relationships – you know when someone can’t make up their mind about you. I completely broke down because that person was my first reader.

More than life, it affected my writing. 41792G6F2KLThat’s when I picked up this amazing book. And here I am with more books written and published and still writing. It really freed the writer within me.

From Faraway tree that made me tell stories to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime that showed me possibilities, the list of books that is weaved into my life is very long.

Books do so many things to people. Some movies do too. But I think books stay with you longer because they force you to imagine. The nerve cells in your brain fuse and expand trying to figure out the words on the printed page. They go to your long-term memory and emotional memory. (Those who watched Inside Out know what I’m talking about! What a movie, that would stay with me for sure. I digress again.)

When I started updating the month and year of reading a book I realized some books I read almost as soon as I bought them. Some books I bought on release day. Some books were left on their own on the bookshelf. They call out to me sometimes – “you’ve to read me!”.

I remember not just what I was feeling or experiencing when I read these books, but also what happened after. Did my life change?poemcrazy

I found this book in a NY bookstore near Wall Street nestled among the writing books. What a joy it brought me. I spent the weekend walking the riverside and writing poems – they might not be good poems, but they had a bit of me inside them.

More recently I read Gangleader for a Day, We are Completely Beside Ourselves, Us Minus Mum and Elizabeth is Missing and so many more. I loved Luminaries and I loved the silly Red Eyes at Night by Michael Morpugo.

Each time, it changes life either in the core or in the edges. Like a real experience does. That’s what I like about reading.

I watched Kite Runner in the cinema and I cried for nights. Then against my own advice I read the book. I cried for weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about that boy. I was living his pain and I was devastated. I had always liked kites as a child. I made them at home and took them up to my terrace. But this story has now imprinted itself into the word KITE in my brain. Every time I see a kite, I think of Kite Runner.

I have a new stack of books now. Signed books from YALC, signed books from book launches and in a frenzy of catching up on authors I loved reading in the last two years. That’s what happened when I took stock – I realized I loved a book and then I checked for more books by the same author and ended up buying more than I have space for – in shelves and in life.

Well, a girl’s gotta do, what she’s gotta do. READ!

So do you have a catalog of all the books you’ve read? Do you think of them interlinked with life? Or is your life on a parallel track to the train of books that rush past you?

Tell me if a book changed your life. Tell me if it has folded a memory like a dog-ear in a book for looking back. Tell me if it has changed your outlook to life, how you see others, how you see yourself. Is it a window to you or a mirror or both? Is it a doorway to other lives, other worlds, other perspectives?

And I leave you with this wonderful video showing the power of books. Go on, I know you’ll love it.