Postcards from…is a series about one picture perfect capture from a place I have recently travelled to. I am just back from a short monsoon holiday to the southern Indian state of Karnataka and the postcard is from one of the most picturesque and atmospheric places that I visited during this trip — ruins of the Rosary Church at Shettyhalli.
This Church was built by French missionaries in the 1860s. This was abandoned in 1960 when the Hemavathi dam was built and the reservoir created partially submerged the church when the water levels rose during the monsoons. The monsoons had not fully set in when I visited, so was able to see and walk around the ruins of the Rosary Church.
Pondicherry, on the southern coast was under French colonial rule. In 1962, it merged with India.
French Citizenship was offered to local Tamils; 6,200 opted for French Nationality.
In Apr’ 2017, 4,600 were eligible to vote for the French Presidential elections.
These statements flash on the screen at the very beginning of Two Flags, a documentary film directed by Pankaj Rishi Kumar, outlining its theme and focus clearly. The film follows the small community of the Tamil French (who are not Indian, but French Nationals) living in Pondicherry and their engagement with the 2017 Presidential election in France.
The film, which is mainly in Tamil and French (with English subtitles) and some English, introduces you — the viewer — to the Tamil French community on the occasion of French National Day celebrations in Pondicherry before diving into the main narrative of the 2017 French Presidential elections. The viewer watches community leaders discuss the merits of different Presidential candidates and predict the percentage of votes their preferred candidates will get. You visit the houses of other members of the Tamil French community, as the leaders exhort them to vote in the elections, sometimes even telling them who they should vote for. You realise with a start that if not for the French-sounding names of the candidates and the occasional French spoken, one could very well be watching the campaigning for elections in India.
Just when you are settling into the film and French election politics, parallel narratives on French language and culture, and another on French citizenship is introduced. And suddenly, Two Flags is not about the 2017 French Presidential elections anymore.
This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fifthof the 36 books — the book from Rajasthan — in this literary journey across India.
Padma Shri Komal Kothari (1929–2004) was an authority on Rajasthani folk traditions and oral history. Though his academic training was in Hindi literature, his interest in oral narratives and traditions led him to examine local epics, songs, riddles, music, drama, religious beliefs and practices, caste compositions, economics, village power structures, agricultural practices, land and water use, migration, etc. leading to an understanding beyond established paradigms. Kothari was not just interested in exploring the traditional ways of understanding the world; he was more interested in the process by which oral knowledge was learnt, remembered and passed from generation to generation.
Kothari is, perhaps, best known for the documentation, preservation and development of folk music by working with traditional musicians of Rajasthan, especially the Manganiyars and the Langas, and putting them on the world map. So great and pioneering was his work that he attracted scores of scholars of ethnomusicology, folklore and cultural studies from across world and India.
Rajasthan: An Oral History — Conversations with Komal Kothari (Penguin Books, pp. 358, 2003) by Rustom Bharucha is an attempt to document “Komalda’s intimate knowledge of Rajasthan through extended conversations and dialogue” (p.2). The book is the outcome of such conversations with Kothari on the cultural geography of Rajasthan over a two-year period. As Bharucha says in the “Introduction” to the book:
Most people have to deal with some kind of clutter in their homes — clothes, shoes, kitchen implements, artifacts, etc. I’m no different with my clutter arising from books. One might wonder why a book lover like me would call books clutter, but I would urge you to read on and see what I did after years of struggling to manage the vast book collection I have in my small apartment in Mumbai (and in my office space as well!).
I can’t remember when I started collecting books, but I do know that it began with a set of Amar Chitra Katha comics, which I still have ! My book collection grew slowly over the years, but really took off (or exploded as my oldest brother likes to say wryly), when I started working in 1993. For the first time I had unlimited money (or so it seemed at that time) to buy all the books I wanted. Of course, reality intruded but I was still happy that I had buying power.
And so the book collection expanded filling bookshelves, sharing space with my clothes, getting stuffed in the loft space, and even getting stored in the kitchen ! Also, since I didn’t have enough space at home I started keeping books in my office as well.
In an ideal world, a house or a workspace overflowing with books would have been considered charming, even romantic. I thought so too, till an overloaded bookshelf at home collapsed one day, missing my right foot by mere inches. Out of fear from other bookshelves meeting with the same fate, I decided that something had to be done. That something being discarding/giving away books that I didn’t need/like any more and lightening the shelves. For the first time, my book collection did not give me the usual feeling of joy or pride; instead, what I felt was claustrophobia.
That was the impetus for Project Declutter Bookshelves. This was in 2014.
This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge where one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the fourthof the 36 books to be read — the book from Gujarat — in this literary journey across India.
Fence byIla Arab Mehta is the English translation of the Gujarati original, Vaad (2011) by Rita Kothari. Published by Zubaan Booksin 2015, Fence (Paperback, 232 pages) was not my first choice for the book from Gujarat for the #TSBCReadsIndia challenge. But when I came across this review of Fence, it didn’t take me long to decide on this book as my read from Gujarat and order a copy for myself.
I started reading the book almost as soon as I got it, but found it very difficult go beyond the first 100 pages or so. I must have stopped and re-started reading the book at least 4-5 times over a two-month period before finally giving up and putting the book aside.
This was more than a year back, and in that period I read other books and periodically mulled over whether to continue reading Fence or give it up, whenever I saw it on my bookshelf. Last week, when I came across Fence once again, I decided to give it another, last, attempt at reading the book.
It took me three days to read Fence, cover to cover, but finish the book I did. And then immediately got down to writing its review.
The topic of discussion on #TSBCfor Sunday, June 26th was “Literary Cities”. The discussion was an animated one and towards the end, one of the participants (I can’t remember who it was now) tweeted that the literary capital of India was Mussoorie or Landour, because that’s where many of the writers were based. If anybody wanted to meet writers, that’s where one had to go !
I couldn’t help smiling when I read the tweet for I was leaving for a much awaited short holiday in the hills to Landour and Mussoorie the very next day. My agenda for the holiday was to relax, read and generally chill out. Literary capital of the country or not, seeking out or meeting writers in Mussoorie / Landour was not on my agenda. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who loves books and all things bookish, but I prefer reading books to talking to their writers.
But Mussoorie / Landour had other plans in store for me as I was soon to find out. It began with my coming across a shelf full of books by Mussoorie-based writers at the Landour Bakehouse (see photograph below), which made me realise just how many writers were based there. It ended with me having a serendipitous and unexpected tête-à-têtes with two writers and exchanging greetings with a third.