This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Maharashtra — in this literary journey across India.
Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar (Hardback, 228 pages, 2013, Hamish Hamilton) is probably the only book I have ever bought without reading either the author or book blurb, or even a sample page or two.
I didn’t really need to after I saw who had translated this book from the original Marathi into English — Jerry Pinto. I was immediately intrigued as till then I had only read Pinto’s original writing in English and hadn’t known that he did translations !
And so a copy of Cobalt Blue was bought with the intention of reading it soon. But that didn’t happen and the book lay in my to-be-read-pile of books for nearly 2 years, and would probably still be there if not for #TSBCReadsIndia. While shortlisting the book for Maharashtra, I remembered Cobalt Blue and after a quick look at it found that it fit the two basic criteria that I had set for a book to qualify for this reading challenge — (i) it was a translation, and (ii) it was recent.
The Swiss Family Robinson was one of my favourite books growing up. I received an abridged version of this book for my 10th birthday and it was love at first read. For a 10- year-old girl with a rather active imagination, the story of a shipwrecked family living on a deserted island with nobody but each other for company was extremely thrilling and romantic. The family comprises Father Robinson (who is never named in the book), Mother Robinson (Elizabeth), and their four sons—Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Franz.
I read the book (which was first published in 1812) many times over the years and never failed to marvel at the resourcefulness of the hard- working Swiss Family Robinson who lived off the land, sea and air, or delight in their discoveries, inventions and adventures. In a way, it was one of my comfort books !
So when I recently found an unabridged, second-hand version of the book, I was delighted. It was a much-anticipated read and I was looking forward to reading all the details that an abridged version always leaves out. And the unabridged version of The Swiss Family Robinson did not disappoint on that score—the characters were fleshed out, the various adventures, discoveries and inventions were described in more detail, etc.
This weekend was a weekend with a purpose. A single-minded purpose to do some much-needed pruning. No, not pruning of trees or bushes or shrubs, but of my book collection, which had grown, multiplied and reached unmanageable levels at home.
Yes, I am talking about space constraints which was threatening domestic peace. A week ago, my mother nearly had a fit when she found 3 of my books inside the pressure cooker she uses when we have more than 10 people over for a meal. When I told her that she had not used that cooker for more than 6 months and would probably not use them for another 6, she was not amused. When I persisted by saying that I was only making good use of available space like a true Mumbaikar, she mumbled something about encroachment and territorial rights. Mothers !
But I knew that she was right. A pressure cooker is nearly always meant for cooking (though I do remember the pressure cooker in question being used for storing water, when we faced severe water shortage a few years back) and is certainly not the place for keeping books. And my books were all over the place at home (in addition to being in book shelves meant for them)—they shared space with sheets and the pillow covers, my dupattas and shalwars, my CDs and my tanpura, and of course my mother’s pots and pans.
Image Source: MS Office Cliparts
The easiest thing for me would have been to get additional shelves made, but I knew that this was not the solution. The solution lay in pruning my book collection—not an easy decision at all as I am attached to all my books and it would be difficult to decide which books to keep and which ones to discard/give away/sell.
After thinking about it for some time, I came up with a 5 point criteria that I hoped would help me separate the books I wanted to keep and the books I could to say goodbye to.
(a) is primarily a travelogue,
(b) is also a concise literary, spiritual, religious, mythological, and political history of the region,
(c) is part autobiographical, and
(d) includes a description of taming wild elephants, a folk tale and a one-act play.
The book that I am talking about here is R.K. Narayan’s (RKN) The Emerald Route, which is the outcome of the author’s travels along with R.K. Laxman, his brother and the famous cartoonist, through the length and breadth of Karnataka.
First published in 1977 by the Director of Information and Publicity, Government of Karnataka, and then by Penguin India in 1999, I recently bought the latter edition on the recommendation of Smeedha, a friend.
RKN chose to title his book “The Emerald Route” for one important reason—he did not encounter even a single dry patch during the first phase of his tour from Mysore through Hunsur and Hassan and back. He says: